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U.S. and Europe join China in Recovery and Acceleration of Industrial 3D Printer Shipments

LONDON, 13 July 2021 –  shipments of high-end Industrial and Design 3D printers continued to recover in Q1 2021 as deliveries into the US and Europe began to mirror the recovery previously seen in China. In the Industrial price class – which accounted for 52% of global 3D printer system hardware revenues over the period – unit shipments rose +43% year-on-year. The comparison is against the Covid-impacted Q1 2020 and, although strong, shipments were not back to pre-pandemic levels, trailing behind Q1 2019 by −3%. Design class printer shipments were up +11% but also remained down on pre-Covid levels, −15% below Q1 2019. The year-on-year rise for Professional printers was less impressive in the period (+7%) but the pandemic had less of an impact on this class – there was even a boost in shipments in the first half of last year. Additionally, with sales of Professional printers generally on the rise pre-pandemic, shipments were up +22% from Q1 2019 to Q1 2021. Growth rates for Personal and Kit & Hobby printers appeared to be phenomenal – at +38% and +459% respectively – but year-on-year comparisons are strange given that in Q1 2020 the factories in China producing these printers (or their key components) were shut down. Even though these two classes have performed well as-of-late, it remains to be seen how much of the recent quarter’s shipments-boon was by way of Covid-related factors and what new normal run-rates may be.

INDUSTRIAL PRINTERS ($100K+*)

Shipments of Industrial 3D printer systems struggled during lockdowns in H1 2020 with capital expenditures from key end-markets including aerospace, automotive, healthcare and general manufacturing largely on hold. Shipment rates increased sequentially in Q3 2020 and Q4 2020 as China came back online and then as the US and Europe gained control of the pandemic. Q1 2021 shipments, while generally on the rise and up year-on-year on a strange compare, were down a little on Q4 2020 and still recessed from Q1 2019, the date which is now being used as a near-term benchmark. Shipments of metal-focused Additive Manufacturing machines were up +4% year-on-year in Q1 2021 but considerably down (−27%) on Q1 2019. On the other hand, Industrial polymer AM machine shipments for the quarter were up +74% from their Q1 2020 low point and, more importantly, +12% higher than in Q1 2019 thanks to growth from China’s UnionTech (the global leader in this price class) and a strong rebound from key Western vendors like Stratasys, Carbon, HP, 3D Systems and EOS. Having overtaken the West in H2 2020, and with the US and Europe still in recovery as vaccine rollout ramped up slowly and new Covid variants caused upsurges in many countries, China remained the largest market for new Industrial printer shipments in Q1 2021 with reportedly strong demand from its surging domestic manufacturing industry.

Chart 1: Industrial 3D Printer System Shipments and

Year-on-Year Growth by Region

DESIGN ($20K–$100K)

Industry stalwarts Stratasys, 3D Systems and EnvisionTEC (now part of Desktop Metal) collectively shipped 62% of machines in this category in Q1 2021, with most of the quarter’s Y/Y 11% growth coming by way of rising shipments from Stratasys. Western companies are the main drivers in this price class, with companies outside of Asia responsible for 81% of total shipments. However, there are reports of strong demand in China, as its manufacturing segment continues to grow, and domestic shipments there are up +66% year-on-year.

PROFESSIONAL ($2.5K–$20K)

There was a ‘Covid bump’ in Professional printer shipments during H1 2020 as workers needed to mirror equipment available in their office buildings at home. Demand waned a little in 2H 2020 but accelerated again in Q1 2021 with the year-on-year increase in shipments thanks mostly to the success of products from the industry’s newest $2B company, Formlabs. Between Q1 2019 and Q1 2021, unit-volume shipments grew by +22% but the rise in system revenues has been even more impressive: key players have introduced more feature-rich products generating revenue growth of +45% over the two years.

PERSONAL (<$2.5K FULLY ASSEMBLED) AND KIT & HOBBY (SELF-ASSEMBLY)

Many vendors at this low-end of the market took the period to take stock of, and to pare down, their exploding model-count driven by the 2020 pandemic boom that resulted from consumers in lockdown taking up a new hobby or helping with their local PPE effort. Even in a seasonal lull period, Y/Y shipment growth looks phenomenal but was particularly skewed by pandemic comparisons as a year ago China was in hard lockdown. While shipments surged in 2020, supply shortages in the face of strong demand led to significant double-ordering (and double shipments) so it is not yet clear how much of this growth is sustainable and how much a result of the pandemic. Finished-good Personal printers continued to lose ground to self-assembly models with Personal shipments down -24% sequentially while Kit & Hobby shipments rose +14% Q/Q. In spite of the natural seasonal sequential shipment decline for Personal printers, the segment continued to see the increasing popularity of new, low-cost, resin-based LCD printers. Shipments of Personal LCD printers were up +20% Y/Y and accounted for 36% of all shipments in a category that had previously been dominated by models using FDM/material extrusion technology. Nearly all Kit & Hobby printers use FDM so it seems that demand for this technology has shifted into the self-assembly segment.

2021 and beyond

With new industries looking to adopt additive manufacturing to help mitigate potential supply-chain disruptions of the sort they saw in 2020, the long-term outlook for this sector is exceedingly positive. However, many vendors report an increasingly bullish outlook even for the near-term. They point to rising order rates – especially for metals 3D printing – and interest from new markets, such as the oil and gas industries. Economies are surging as they reopen, even though this process is slower in some Western nations than in the East because of ‘delta caution’ (concern about Covid variants) as Q3 begins. Global business travel has not yet resumed in earnest, so the reach of in-person multinational trade events like RAPID (Chicago) and Formnext (Germany) that are scheduled for H2 2021 is still unclear. Even so, shipments of new products continue to be a main driver of growth in the 3D printer industry indicating that markets remain eager to try new technologies in an effort to find the ever-elusive silver bullet that will meet all their needs and/or fill known holes in production capabilities. With more new products on the horizon this year than seen in recent periods, the projection for 2021 is now one of solid shipment growth compared to both 2020 and 2019 for all types of printers. Combined revenues from institutionally-focused Industrial, Design and Professional systems are forecasted to see not only an increase of +23% from 2020 but also to see a rise of +5% from 2019, showing increased optimism for a quicker bounce-back.

Chart 2: System Revenues and Forecasts by Material and Process

(Industrial, Professional and Design Printers Combined)

Industry leader Stratasys has doubled down on polymer 3D printing, adding new modalities to its portfolio, and is expected to ship powder bed fusion and vat photopolymerization solutions this year. HP’s Jet Fusion metal binder-jetting technology is expected to begin to be readily available globally, and newcomer Xerox looks set to bring their metal technology to the market. Composites leader Markforged is now teasing larger-format solutions while Desktop Metal is not only continuing the roll-out of new composite and metal binder-jetting systems but also looking to bolster their new EnvisionTEC acquisition with more production-centric polymer systems. Rising start-ups, such as Nexa3D and Essentium, and long-time industrial stalwarts, such as SLM Solutions and ExOne, have recently introduced new models or technologies, or are on the cusp of delivering previously announced solutions. All this activity bodes well for growth in 2021 – as long as global Covid recovery is not halted. The longer-term outlook remains bullish for the AM technologies most focused on volume serial production (including powder bed fusion and vat photopolymerization of polymers, and binder-jetting of metals) as the move of 3D printing into serial production, rather than merely prototyping, accelerates.

*Price-class categorisation is based on fully assembled finished goods for Personal, Professional, Design and Industrial systems; Kit & Hobby models require DIY assembly.