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Quarterly industrial 3D printer shipments accelerate in US and Western Europe as market remains confident of robust full-year growth

By Danielle Cohen

Strong order books keep expectations of global growth over the full year high in spite of Covid-induced slowdowns in China

LONDON, 14 July 2022 – In a total reversal of trends seen during pandemic lockdowns in 2020, shipments of the highest-end 3D printers were on the rise and accelerating in Q1 2022 while shipments of consumer-centric systems were down and decelerating, according to the latest by CONTEXT, the market intelligence company.

As the world looks to additive manufacturing in an effort to overcome continuing supply-chain challenges, shipments in the strategic Industrial and Design price classes* were up +7% and +19% respectively on Q1 2021. These together accounted for 69% of total revenues for the quarter. Even more impressive was their growth compared to the same period of 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. CONTEXT notes that shipments of Industrial systems were +53% greater than the same period two years ago and those of Design systems +36% greater.

Although shipments of consumer-centric Personal and Kit&Hobby printers were up from pre-pandemic levels, they were down −25% and −47% on Q1 2021. Professional systems, which form the intermediate segment of this category, are looking for a catalyst and their performance over Q1 2022 was relatively flat: up just +2% year-on-year and +7% on Q1 2022.

Chart 1: Global 3D Printer System Unit Shipments by Price Class Q1 20-22
(note different scales) 

INDUSTRIAL PRINTERS

Shipments of almost all types of printers in this market segment grew in Q1 2022 with the greatest growth seen in metal Binder Jetting where printer shipments were up +113% over Q1 2021. Binder Jetting is not a dominant technology (accounting for just 3% of all industrial machine shipments) and not the dominant technology for metal additive manufacturing (only accounting for 8% of the category total in the period) but it is one of the fastest growing technologies. While Desktop Metal (along with recently acquired ExOne) leads in market share for metal Binder Jetting, household brands HP and GE look to soon enter the space with HP on track for full commercial launch of their Metal Jet technology within 2022.

In terms of total machine shipments, China’s UnionTech was again the volume leader but saw shipments trail off −6% from a year ago. While the growth of additive manufacturing in China has been impressive over the last few years, shipments stalled in the first quarter of this year with shipments up only +2% from a year ago. With a ‘zero Covid’ policy resulting in long lockdowns in major cities, China’s growth is likely to be further stymied in Q2 2022. Regions leading the global growth this period were North America, which saw year-on-year shipment growth of +16%, and Western Europe where shipment rose +8%. By vendor, standout brands in the top 10 seeing some of the strongest year-on-year organic unit shipment growth include Prodways, BMF, 3D Systems, Farsoon and HP in Polymers and Eplus3D, Velo3D, TRUMPF and Farsoon in metals.

DESIGN PRINTERS

The top 10 companies working in this segment all shipped more systems in Q1 2022 than in Q1 2021. By technology, Material Jetting was particularly strong in the period lead by 3D Systems with their MultiJet Printing solutions (up +53% year-on-year) and Stratasys with their PolyJet technology (up +44%). Including all technologies, existing product lines were responsible for most shipment growth in the class but newly introduced models and technologies from leading vendors – including Stratasys’ Origin P3 printers and 3D Systems’ material extrusion printers (from newly acquired Kumovis) – also contributed. Shipment leaders in this segment in the quarter include Stratasys, 3D Systems, Markforged, Nexa3D and Prodways.

PROFESSIONAL PRINTERS

Two leading brands – Ultimaker and MakerBot – have recently made news by announcing a merger. MakerBot, which will spin away from parent Stratasys, creates both Professional and Personal systems. Its strength in the US market and education sector will compliment that of Ultimaker, which long ago shifted its focus to the Professional segment and is most dominant in the EMEA region. Given the limited recent growth in shipments of Professional machines, the industry is eager to see the direction the new company will take. Hints that the newly merged entity will follow another leader in this price class, Formlabs, by expanding its portfolio come from Ultimaker’s launch of a new metal-focused solution. While Professional units from Ultimaker and Formlabs accounted for 55% of those shipped in Q1 2022, other vendors in the top 5 (including Raise3D and SprintRay) saw better growth. The significance of the market leaders, and the slight share shift in the category, can be demonstrated by excluding the top two brands from the analysis: without them, total unit shipments would have been up +16% year-on-year.

PERSONAL AND KIT&HOBBY PRINTERS

Shipments of the lowest-end printers were significantly down on last year but a few vendors had some success in the education sector. While do-it-yourself kits are more for hobbyists, low-cost, fully-assembled Personal printer sales cross more markets, including education. Personal shipments saw some success as governments across the world look to support the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths. Subsidies from Poland’s Laboratoria Przyszłość (Laboratories of the Future) programme led to some significant projects especially for Polish vendors (for example, Zortrax) and others with a strong presence in the country. Leading vendor MakerBot also recently highlighted government support for 3D printers in schools in other regions (including the US) although these are not yet evident in sales figures. Such subsidies and initiatives will offer a shot in the arm and give hope to a market struggling to find a new accelerant. Another hopeful sign for this low-end of the market is the resurgence of the recently subdued crowdsourcing sector: in Q1 2022, Anker raised a record $8.9M on Kickstarter against a pre-order of over 12K printers.

A LOOK AHEAD

In spite of headwinds from factors including global inflation, a slowdown in China’s economy related to current Covid mitigation efforts, looming fears of regional recessions, and the ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine, manufacturers of Industrial 3D printers remain bullish in their collective outlook for 2022.

In the near term, CONTEXT expects industries such as aerospace and dentistry to remain key with current forecasts projecting a +24% rise in unit shipments and a +29% rise in system revenues for the full year in the Industrial class. Longer term forecasts are driven upward by continuing incursions of additive manufacturing into volume production elsewhere as well, thanks to its ability to onshore certain manufacturing processes and help alleviate supply-chain issues.

As such, Industrial 3D printing system revenues are on track for a 5-year CAGR of no less than 28% propelled mostly by technologies focused on volume serial production.

Chart 2: 5-year Industrial 3D printer system unit shipment forecast and CAGR growth by process and material

* Price classes for fully assembled finished goods: Personal <$2,500; Professional $2,500–$20,000; Design $20,000–$100,000; Industrial $100,000+ Kit & Hobby printers require assembly by purchaser.