As 2022 comes to an end, it’s time once again to reflect upon the state of the 3D printing market this year. It is also the time to reflect on the trends that dominated additive manufacturing. This year, it was evident that the AM sector continues to make the same gains as in previous years. It has continued to recover from the Pandemic, as well continue to industrialize, especially in large-format 3D printers and larger-scale operations. The field’s actors continue to be concerned about sustainability.
There is no secret that sustainability and 3D printing have a strong connection. AM is often praised for its ability to reduce waste. It isn’t perfect. Plastic use has been controversial. However, 3D printing technology development and environmental responsibility have only increased. The Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association, (AMGTA), continues to expand and includes many leading figures in additive manufacturing. The current membership includes 50 companies, an increase of 50% since 2021.
However, there were also many new trends that dominated the sector. What are these trends exactly? How has the world changed over the years? What do you see for AM in the future? We took a moment to review the key lessons learned from the 3D printing industry in 2022, and closed the year.
In 2022, Consolidation is the Main Stage of 3D Printing
We reviewed a report at the start of the year that indicated that 3D printing would not consolidate in the near-term. But, this was quickly proved wrong. Despite the industry experiencing a lot of growth, 2022 saw significant consolidation of the 3D printing sector through acquisitions and mergers as well partnerships.
The merger of Ultimaker and Makerbot in May 2022 was perhaps the most significant consolidation shock of the year. For those who are familiar with 3D printing, MakerBot was one the first 3D printer companies that emerged from the RepRap movement. It was actually purchased first by Stratasys back in 2013. Ultimaker’s desktop solutions are well-known, as well as its Cura software. It is one of the most popular slicers among 3D printer enthusiasts.
In September, the merger was completed. UltiMaker launched a new brand. Both companies stressed the importance of the merger to them. “fueling global 3D printing innovation”, namely by combining their current strengths and solutions as well as investing in new R&D for more products. Nadav Goshen (ex-CEO of Makerbot) is the new CEO of the newly combined company. “As we begin the next chapter together as UltiMaker, we will continue to focus on developing 3D printing innovations to advance the availability of accessible and easy-to-use 3D printing solutions. By combining our teams and technical expertise, we can work towards developing and delivering a comprehensive portfolio of products to support professional, educational and light-industrial applications.”
This is just one example. 3D Systems announced in February that it would acquire Titan Robotics (and Kumovis) after having sold various parts of the company for one year. This will allow the company to return to the FDM marketplace after a long absence. The company also wanted to acquire dp polar GmbH (a German manufacturer of an AM system which has been optimized for high speed mass production of custom components).
Similarly in August, Stratasys, one of the leading and first 3D printing manufacturers, announced its acquisition of Covestro’s 3D printing material business. Carbon also purchased ParaMatters (a software company that is known for its generative designing software capabilities) in its first acquisition. This is where you might start to see a pattern in the many mergers and acquisitions that have taken place over the years. We noticed that AM companies were looking for complete solutions to additive manufacturing. They are targeting companies that have different strengths (e.g. software or materials).
It can also be seen. As more companies seek to expand their reach, they are able to access other AM technologies. Markforged is one such company, and it is looking to enter the metal binder jetting industry with its acquisition Digital Metal. Markforged, best known for its 3D metal printing processes and carbon-fiber, is growing quickly. The company’s expansion into metal binder jetting is a sign of its desire to grow and places it in direct competition with Desktop Metal, the American market leader.
It’s not just AM companies who are making moves to acquire and merge. Large tech companies, which were not as active in the sector, have acquired 3D printing businesses this year. Nikon, a well-known camera manufacturer, decided to acquire SLM solutions via a Public Takeover offer, which was announced in September. Nikon had officially purchased 92.38% SLM as of the end of the acceptance period. SyBridge also acquired the troubled Fast Radius, which was publicly traded in this year, but saw its performance drop quickly. Under the US bankruptcy code, technologies are sold for $15.9 million.
Consolidation doesn’t just mean acquisitions. These were evidently abundant in 2022. We also highlight the growing role of partnerships in additive production as part of this trend. Notably between software, post-processing and 3D printer manufacturers as a way to provide customers with a “one stop shop” for their 3D printing needs, helping in the continued industrialization of AM.
Discussing for example the cooperation between AMT and HP, wherein automation and software partnerships are keys to developing a fully comprehensive solution for customers, Wayne Davey, Global Head of Sales and Go To Market for HP’s Personalization and 3D printing business, commented, “We are excited to take our partnership to the next level with AMT given their shared vision, shared customer, and proven portfolio of post processing post processing technology. At HP we believe leveraging partnerships that bring unique expertise to the end-to-end Multi Jet Fusion workflow are key to accelerating the scale of additive manufacturing to production.”
DyeMansion is an established provider post-processing software solutions. Nexa3D has also entered into a partnership. Kevin McAlea (Chief Operating Officer at Nexa3D) explained. “It’s only natural that we would partner with DyeMansion, a leading provider of automated post-processing solutions for powder bed fusion, to ensure that our industrial customers can leverage high-throughput manufacturing capabilities from end-to-end as well as reduce their total cost of operation.” It seems that 3D printing industry professionals are realizing that we are stronger when we work together and that consolidation is becoming a more common reality.
Despite growing, there is disruption to the market
Yet, disruption often follows consolidation and growth. Disruption was a major trend in the market since the beginning of 2022 for many reasons. The war in Ukraine was one of the first. After months of Russian government aggression, the Russian invasion officially began on February 24th 2022. The Russian Invasion was the culmination of years-old tensions between the nations, since the 2014 annexation Crimea.
This may not seem like 3D printing, but the whole additive manufacturing community reacted to this news. Many prominent figures in the industry took action to condemn the invasion within minutes. EOS was one of the 3D printing companies that decided to cease business with Russian customers. Others organized donations.
We have heard of this crisis. Support was most active at the beginning and throughout the year. We can also point to the silent auctions held by Together We Are Strong, which was launched by companies like Nexa3D. EOS, BigRep and Wohlers Associates powered By ASTM International. SYGNIS. Digital University and 3YOURMIND. These were held at major 3D printing events such as Rapid + TCT 2022 or Formnext.
The 3D printing community also supported the Ukrainian people in other ways. Companies and users around the world worked together to create 3D printed parts that could be used to help Ukrainians. One example is the creation open-source tourniquet file that can be used for civilian injuries. Oxford Performance Materials and Unlimited Tomorrow are also looking to send 3D-printed prosthetics to the war-torn countries. Ukrainian organizations dedicated to additive manufacturing for their country rose up, including 3D printing for Ukraine. The disruption occurred outside the AM community, which rose to meet it. This was not always true.
Supply chain disruptions, for example, were also a concern in 2022. While 3D printing can be a viable solution, it was best demonstrated during the COVID crisis. Plastic and microchip shortages around the world affected nearly every industry. This was made worse by the Ukrainian War, which saw trade routes rewritten in a matter of hours and key materials not being able to reach their destinations.
Last but not the least, although there has been significant growth in the AM industry over the last few years, not all signs are so bright. The number of layoffs that occurred over the past year is one of the most alarming signs. This is most likely due to market consolidation as previously mentioned, but it is also a sign that there is an ongoing trend in tech sector because of the current global recession. Many of the largest companies in this industry were affected. Desktop Metal and Nexa3D, Xerox, Carbon, and Carbon all announced significant reductions in their workforces, with DM cutting its global workforce by 12%.
Discussing the reduction, which was named a cost optimization measure, Ric Fulop, CEO of Desktop Metal, noted, “Prior financial results calls have shown that we are focused on finding ways to optimize our expense structures while still maximizing our growth opportunities. We believe this initiative, which builds on steps we began to take in the second half of 2021 to integrate our teams, positions Desktop Metal to meet our near- and long-term financial commitments and supports our path to profitability.” This shows that profits might have been lower than expected for some in the industry.
Automation and software gain importance for 3D printing in 2022
No surprise, automation is included on the list of 3D printing trends for 2022. Automation is increasingly necessary as 3D printing industrializes. This allows for large-scale printing across many industries. We saw many different technologies and software developed to meet this need over the course of 2018.
It was already discussed when we talked about consolidation. However, one indicator of its increased importance was the partnerships between 3D printer solution providers and software providers. It was evident in post-processing. Post-processing is an important step in additive manufacturing. It involves the final treatment of the part after printing. However the step remains time-consuming and difficult, as also shown in PostProcess’s latest report on trends in post-processing. The industry is moving in the right direction with recent partnerships between AMT & HP as well as DyeMansion & Nexa3D. Automation could help to solve this problem.
Automation in AM isn’t just a focus in post-processing. Monitoring is a crucial requirement to create end-use components. Software is an increasingly important part of the field. Many are now investing in their own software solutions, which allows for complete AM workflows. Or they have partnered with software vendors to enable greater automation.
Markforged is a company that has been developing The Digital Forge Platform. This platform, which was designed to help them solve their problems, must be mentioned again. This year Markforged enabled the integration of simulation software in The Digital Forge. Shai Terem, president and CEO of Markforged especially understands the need for the further integration into 3D printing operations, stating: “Our customers can integrate The Digital Forge into their manufacturing processes by using simulation to replace more critical tooling with validated, optimized 3D-printed advanced composite parts with Continuous fiber Reinforcement. Cloud-based software innovation like Simulation is core to our mission to bring industrial part production to the point of need.” This demonstrates the importance of automation and software when scaling production.
AI continues to gain ground in 3D printing, especially when it is related to automation. To improve processes such as monitoring, machine learning or AI-based technology is being adopted by more and more companies. It is also used by researchers to increase productivity in AM.
A collaboration among Fraunhofer Research Institution for Additive Manufacturing Technologies and Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems, Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine, Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials and Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine is a noteworthy example. These institutions turned to AI to make customized finger implants using 3D printing. This project, while it is still in its infancy, shows the incredible possibilities 3D printing can offer when combined with AI, software, and automation.
Binder Jetting: The Rise and Fall of Binder Jetting
We would be remiss to not mention binder jetting, a 3D printing technique that has been mentioned time and again in 2022. Binder jetting was not the most popular of all 3D printing technologies but it did seem to have found its feet this year. Binder jetting has been recognised by the addition of new compatible materials as well as new players in the field. It is now a top-rated 3D printing trend for 2022.
For binder jetting in 2022, it was crucial to develop material. Desktop Metal is a great example of the wide variety of materials it offers. Though of course the company continued to invest heavily in both metal and sand, two of the most common binder jetting materials, with the launch of ExOne’s S-Max Flex Sand 3D printer especially, it also branched out. The company also invests in other materials, such as rubber, wood binder jetting and foam. This has enabled it to expand its reach into more industries and applications. It also cements the importance of binder jetting as a tool for cores and molds as well as end-use components.
Next was the binder market, which seemed to have the most significant changes this year. The binder market saw a significant decline after the acquisition of ExOne last year by Desktop Metal. This was because two of its biggest competitors joined forces. As we said, there are now new players. Markforged is the one.
The American manufacturer’s acquisition of Digital Metal has placed it firmly in the metal binder jetting market as well as positioned it as a direct competitor to DM in a number of fields. But that’s not all! This year also marks the official launch of HP’s long-awaited metal 3D printing solution. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion (MJF), process is still used for its polymer solutions. However, the new metal 3D printing solution uses metal binder jetting. The Metal Jet S100 machine, which was unveiled at IMTS 222, was also showcased at Formnext.
Markforged and HP both decided to investigate metal binder jetting because of the possibility of mass production of metal parts. Ramon Pastor, global head and general manager of 3D Metals, HP Inc explained it thusly: “Since announcing the breakthrough Metal Jet technology in 2018, we have been working to develop the industry’s most advanced commercial solution for 3D metals mass production. 3D printed metal parts are a key driving force behind digital transformation and the new Metal Jet S100 Solution provides a world class metals offering for our customers, from the first designs right through to production, but more importantly helps them to realize the unlimited potential for digital manufacturing.”
There you have it. Although we have witnessed many trends within additive manufacturing, there were some new notable ones this year. Between increasing consolidation, disruption in the sector, automation’s increasing role and of course the advancements in binder jetting, 2022 was certainly not a dull one. We can’t wait to see what 2023 holds in the 3D printing industry.
What do YOU think about the 3D printing trends for 2022? Do you have any other ideas? What are your thoughts on additive manufacturing in 2023 and beyond? Let us know in a comment below or on our Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.
*Cover Photo Credits: 3Dnatives