The impact of the pandemic on the 3D printer industry through 2020 was inconsistent. Demand in some professional and hobby sectors was at an all-time high. On the other hand, there were weaker sales in some industrial sectors due to reduced purchasing in recessed markets. Progress and innovation continued, however, and new technologies and pent-up demand will help accelerate the market in 2021 and beyond.
As engineers and developers working from home attempted to mirror their workplace environment in a domestic setting, many companies bought Professional desktop printers for them to use alongside their new mobile PCs and Zoom cameras. At the height of lockdown, there was also great demand from hobbyists – some just looking to find a new pastime but more doing what they could to help the fight against the virus in their local community by printing PPE, for example. While demand was high, some desktop printer supplies were limited. This was especially true in the hobby market and during Q1 and Q2 when Chinese factories were closed and supply-chain logistics challenged. When this changed later in the year, shipments of consumer printers boomed.
Key industries currently leveraging various additive manufacturing technologies were severely impacted by the pandemic but there was renewed interest in high-end printers from other areas. Sales of Design and Industrial printers were challenged as many end-markets utilising the technology were largely closed in the US and Europe for most of Q2. The automotive, aerospace, dental and education sectors were among those hit hard by pandemic mitigation efforts and this had a significant impact on shipments of new printer shipments in H1.
Meanwhile, there was increased utilisation of the installed base of printers of all varieties for certain activities – such as producing pandemic-related goods. This is where the 3D printing market really shone in 2020. Indeed, most 3D printer companies became medical equipment manufacturers in first part of the year, turning their own printers to the production of PPE, nasopharyngeal swabs and ventilator parts as well as helping to fill supply-chain gaps for other goods. It has once again become clear that 3D printing can be easily and quickly leveraged to print almost whatever is needed on-demand without the long lead times and complicated supply chains associated with traditional production techniques. Items can also be made in the region (or even in the very building) they are needed. This realisation has resulted in renewed interest during H2 2020 – not only from existing verticals but also from many new markets. There is anticipation that this net-new demand will lead to strong printer sales in 2021.
As vaccines appear on the horizon and the world sees light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the 3D printing industry is poised for this resurgence. It is likely that 2021 will be marked by: (1) the emergence of new printer technologies; (2) the fulfilment of pent-up demand from existing markets; and (3) the incorporation of 3D printing technology into new end markets looking for ways to streamline complicated supply chains and improve longer-term planning. The year will see industry leader Stratasys greatly expand its 3D printer portfolio and introduce new polymer technologies to the world. Other heavyweights, such as 3D Systems, EOS, Carbon, Markforged and GE Additive, will look to refocus their efforts on existing vertical markets including the medical, aerospace and automotive industries while laying the groundwork for new technologies and fulfilling demand in new markets. Hot young companies like Desktop Metal – which has just gone public – will ship new composite printers globally. And, finally, latent and pent-up demand for new metal printers (used for volume-production of parts) will be fulfilled as many companies, including HP, champion metal binder jetting – a technology poised to really break out in 2021.
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