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3D Printing Industry:Market Trends and Opportunities

Insights into Today’s 3D Printing Industry:Market Trends and Opportunities

3D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing (AM) or rapid prototyping (RP), is based on the principle of discrete accumulation. It uses a layered, additive approach with the 3D CAD model of a product to achieve manufacturing. 3D printing technology is not actually mysterious. In essence, it is a new type of digital modeling technology. Compared with traditional modeling technologies like formative machining and subtractive machining, this is an entirely new free-form fabrication technology. In theory, it can be used to manufacture arbitrary complex 3D objects, with high production flexibility as one of the important characteristics of additive manufacturing. This new type of fabrication technology changes the traditional manufacturing route, and is another major breakthrough in manufacturing after numerical control (NC) machining technology in the 1960s.

Click here to learn about the first commercial 3D printer

Uncovering the History of 3D Printing: 30 Years from Birth to Adolescence

3D printing is still just entering the growth stage of industrial development. American company 3D Systems launched the first commercial 3D printer SLA-250 in 1988, marking the birth of rapid prototyping technology. It has had nearly 30 years of development so far. However, 3D printing technology did not attract widespread social attention until recent years. Starting in February 2011, mainstream Western media like The Economist, Forbes, The New York Times, and Wired successively published cover stories and front-page articles introducing 3D printing technology and making projections about it. They believed this new type of solid freeform fabrication technology “will drive the Third Industrial Revolution.” Then the heavyweight legend Obama appeared and said, “Let there be 3D printing,” thus initiating this current wave of 3D printing fever. From the start of this wave, all kinds of views and emotions have been mixed in, including passionate and expectant ones, skeptical and pessimistic ones; ones happy to see its success, and dismissive ones; lots of optimistic prophecies as well as pessimistic views, with diverse and discordant opinions. As for industry practitioners, some are still working hard with their heads down, while some have already slowed their pace and started having doubts: some persist in making breakthroughs, and some are already considering retreat…. In the end, is 3D printing a pseudo-proposition or a sunrise industry with broad prospects? How do we recognize its development status correctly, and where on earth is its future development heading? After nearly 30 years of development, 3D printing has reached a climax of thriving development, but when we look past the colorful, exuberant waves and objectively and prudently comb through and evaluate, we discover that for this industry, 30 years of development has, in fact, just completed the beginning, just grown from “childhood” into “adolescence.”


Challenges and Opportunities in the Maturing 3D Printing Industry: Navigating the Growth Stage

According to the Wohlers Report 2015, the global 3D printing market (including equipment and printing services) reached $4.103 billion in 2014. Although this was a year of relatively strong growth for the 3D printing industry in 18 years, compared to traditional industries, this is still a market scale that is hard to match and has a huge gap. In fact, industry capital that is sensitive in business areas is still patiently squatting on the side and calmly observing. Overall, there are still no signs of large-scale entry of industry capital into the 3D printing industry. Likewise for various traditional industry giants, they are also only carefully laying out their positions on the periphery without excessive in-depth involvement. If we think we are standing on a “wind,” unfortunately I have to say it is still just a “breeze,” and the entire industry is still some time away from truly “raging gales.”

Like all emerging industries, 3D printing technology has just stepped from the introduction stage into the growth stage, and there are no mature commercial models to reference. Industry development is complex and changeable, with many uncertain factors. The seemingly abundant “potential opportunities” also correspondingly have huge business risks lurking. If we ignore our true position and get complacent, placing too many unrealistic burdens and expectations on this still immature industry, it will bring tremendous backlash to industry development. The market value of the two large 3D printing leaders, Stratasys and 3D Systems, once approached $10 billion, but now their market value has shrunk substantially. On October 28, 2015, 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental announced his resignation, abruptly leaving the company he served for 12 years. This seems to indicate our industry is experiencing growing pains after developing too rapidly, and we need to re-examine and adjust our position. Every company needs to seriously consider how to smoothly cross the “valley of death” in the growth stage.


Assessing the Current State of the 3D Printing Industry: Challenges and Opportunities Amidst Competition and Technological Immaturity

The current situation is chaotic and contradictory, but for an emerging industry, this is precisely objective and reasonable. The 3D printing industry market at this stage generally has the following characteristics:

  1. Intensifying competition: With the rise of the 3D printing craze, many social forces and resources have poured in from various channels, promoting vigorous development of 3D printing technologies. New materials, technologies, equipment, and processes emerge ceaselessly in the 3D printing field, while the players entering the industry have grown rapidly in number and type, greatly increasing market complexity. The competitive landscape is changing faster and competition is more intense, making it very difficult for companies to find a niche market that can support their development.
  2. Low industry application integration: Compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, there are still significant deficiencies in molding performance, molding accuracy and molding efficiency. How to achieve in-depth integration with industry applications or completely replace them is still a difficult issue 3D printing technology inevitably faces during development.
  3. Insufficient rigid demand, small market scale: 3D printing is still in a relatively elementary quantitative accumulation stage, with low technical maturity. The market demand scale of rigid characteristics is still very limited. For many companies just entering the 3D printing industry, they will face a relatively long adaptation period, and opportunities for rapid development in the short term are relatively scarce.

There has been much discussion of the development bottlenecks for 3D printing at this stage, as well as many targeted practices and explorations. Some believe the high costs hinder the large-scale development of the industry, while others believe the lack of integration between 3D printing technology and industry applications leads to lack of market demand. But in my opinion, the fundamental factor restricting the current development of the 3D printing industry is the immaturity of the technology.


3D Printing Industry: Navigating the Shift from Prototypes to Actual Production Amidst Realism and Market Dynamics

In the foreseeable next 3-5 years, prototype production and use will remain the main application scenario for 3D printing and this pattern will be hard to change. However, the transformation from “prototype production” to “actual production” is the overall development theme of the 3D printing industry, and this has already become an irreversible development trend for the 3D printing industry.

The development of any industry has inherent objective laws. Due to excessive social promotion of 3D printing technology, people have unrealistic excessively high expectations for the 3D printing market, and the overall market already shows some “bubble” characteristics. At this stage, the top priority for entering enterprises should be survival, then consideration of development. Having the right mentality will lead to having the right methods. We can appropriately promote, but must not over-promote. We should pay attention to fully utilizing market mechanisms to drive industry and our own development. It is gratifying that in the last one or two years, we have noticed the whole industry gradually returning to rationality, and everyone has started calmly looking for suitable positions.


NDSpace 3D: A Decade of Expertise in 3D Printing Resin Materials, Shaping world’s Additive Manufacturing Landscape

NDSpace 3D has over 10 years of experience in 3D printing resin materials, participating in and witnessing the main development processes of China’s additive manufacturing industry. It has an in-depth understanding and cognition of the development and application of 3D printing technology as well as customers’ fundamental demands, and has accumulated extensive connections and resource foundations in the field of additive consumables manufacturing.

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