In the fourth and final installment of our 2022 market trends and predictions series, we spoke with Haleyanne Freedman, M. Holland’s 3D Printing Market Manager. This was a challenging year marked by slow moving supply chains and limited material accessibility for many markets and industries. Haleyanne says the 3D printing market had a different experience, however, as machines, services and technology became increasingly accessible. This growth and momentum are expected to continue in the new year as 3D printing service bureaus and industrial manufacturers of all types look to expand their 3D printing capabilities and, for some, bring those capabilities in-house.
A key shift Haleyanne observed in 2021 was a prioritization on increasing print speeds to better compete with other production methods. While the 3D printing market over the past six years saw significant expansion as major industry patents expired, printer manufacturers in the last year have launched new platforms with drastically increased print speeds, some of which can print up to 10 times the speed of existing 3D technologies. This is a monumental development, making 3D printing more speed and cost competitive with injection molding for certain production runs. It is also an indicator that the industry is transitioning from a prototyping-only mindset toward leveraging 3D printing as a viable manufacturing method.
Speed is not the only transformation these machines saw, though. Haleyanne witnessed an increase in machine affordability. In the past, production-capable liquid photopolymer printers and powder bed fusion machines cost $100,000 to $750,000. With new open platform machinery, high quality machines are priced as low as $10,000 to $50,000, making the technologies significantly more competitive and scalable.
Growing industrial interest in 3D printing is also prompting new material developments, with many major plastic resin companies investing big. Haleyanne is excited about recent introductions of new polypropylene and polyethylene materials with good functional properties. While these material classes have previously been available, they have been incredibly challenging to print. However, the recent product developments have created a new variety of easy-to-use and highly printable formulas in both filament and powder, enabling these materials for both production and functional prototyping. These and improvements in polyolefins for 3D will greatly expand the capabilities of 3D printing as an adjunct manufacturing method for injection molders.
Pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions also have sparked growing interest in 3D printing, Haleyanne notes, allowing manufacturers to make products in real time at the point of use while reducing finished goods inventory and simplifying supply lines. 3D printing also allows for improved design, unbound by the traditional limitations of manufacturing, which can mean lower material usage.
Merger and acquisition activity was brisk in 3D printing in 2021, and Haleyanne expects this trend to continue. As the industry scales, players are seeking to expand their product and service offerings to become full-service providers. M. Holland has expanded its service offerings to include design services, part manufacturing and a breadth of materials, equipment and consulting assistance, all intended to help industrial customers with 3D printing adoption.
2021 proved to be a significant year for the 3D printing market with the increases in machine speed and affordability. And, if Haleyanne’s predictions ring true, the momentum is likely to build in 2022 and beyond.