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Quarterly Global Industrial 3D Printer Shipments Struggle for Growth

London, 16 January 2024 - Shipments of 3D Printers struggled in many segments across the globe in the third quarter of 2023 as key end-markets fought against inflation and high interest rates. While publicly traded 3D Printing companies made most of the headlines in the industry in the second half of the year, they were responsible for just 33% of recent global system revenues. Almost none of them - whether “pure play” businesses deriving most or all of their revenues from 3D printing or larger firms offering 3D printing systems and services as part of a portfolio* - have a significant presence in the hot Entry-level sector of the market. Most focus on Industrial systems with just over half (51%) of Q3 2023 revenues in this price class coming from publicly traded companies. Many public 3D printing firms in the West began shifting their attention from market growth to profitability and have recently been distracted by failed mergers and layoffs. Although these woes were reflected in the wider global market as well, there were pockets of opportunity and glimpses of strength in some 3D printer segments, especially in the often-overlooked Entry-level portion of the market.

Chart 1: Global 3D printer system unit shipments by price class

(note different scales)


 

INDUSTRIAL SYSTEMS

Global shipments of $100K+ 3D printers dropped -11% year on year (YoY) in Q3 2023. Industrial polymer printer shipments dropped -17% while Industrial metal printer shipments were down -3%. Shipments of Industrial printers to China, which continues to be the largest market for this price class, were -16% less than in the previous year mostly due to weak polymer printer shipments. Vat photopolymerization printers -- the largest category of the polymer printer segment -- performed particularly poorly (if excluded from the analysis, then Industrial polymer printer shipments were up were actually up 2% from a year ago). Reduced demand in certain dental end market segments contributed to poor results for some companies (such as 3D Systems) but the Covid pandemic is still casting a long shadow over global growth figures. The recent performance of market leader UnionTech has been lumpy and inconsistent, and shipments dropped by -28% YoY in the period partly because the comparison is to a time when the company was in accelerated recovery from the Shanghai lockdowns of Q1 and Q2 2022. In spite of all this, Q3 2023 global revenues from Industrial printers were up 2% on the previous year.

Chart 2: Global Industrial 3D printer system unit shipments by material and process

 

INDUSTRIAL METAL PRINTERS

Industrial metal 3D printer shipments were down -3% in Q3 2023 with most of the shortfall coming from a -9% fall in those of powder bed fusion (PBF) systems - the largest (and most strategically important) category. There were YoY shipment falls for Industrial metal printer shipments in the two top regions in Industrial metal shipments: China (-8%) and North America (-6%). However, inflationary price increases and the growing popularity of larger build-volume, multi-laser powder bed fusion systems - initially from Western vendors such as Velo3D and Nikon SLM Solutions but now also from Chinese companies including Farsoon, Eplus3D and Xi’an BLT as well - mean that overall metal revenues were 8% higher than in Q3 2022.

INDUSTRIAL POCKETS OF GROWTH

While shipments of most Industrial metal 3D printer systems were down in the period, one modality seeing strength was the Directed Energy Deposition (DED) segment. Recent quarters have seen the emergence of new entry-level products in this segment with Spain’s Meltio driving the charge and now leading the category in market-share. The DED category saw further growth outside of the low-end as well as Australia’s SPEE3D accelerated defence shipments to support the war effort in Ukraine. Pockets of growth were also seen in some polymer segments as well with excellent YoY growth in shipments of polymer PBF systems from one of the biggest companies in this category, EOS. Meanwhile, Stratasys, one of the largest and highest-profile global vendors, saw a healthy 11% YoY increase in shipments of its wide range of Industrial polymer printers.

MIDRANGE SYSTEMS

In Q3 2023, Midrange printer shipments fell -5% YoY (-2% sequentially). The drop would have been worse were it not for two factors that also affected results in the previous quarter: (1) strong shipments of a new class of low-end PBF systems, mainly from Formlabs; and (2) rising domestic shipments in China of vat photopolymerization printers, almost exclusively from UnionTech. If Formlabs and UnionTech are excluded from the analysis, then shipments in this price class would have been down -17% as key market leaders performed poorly: shipments for product in this category were down -17% for Stratasys, -28% for 3D Systems and -33% Markforged. Recognising challenges in this price class, companies like Formlabs have adeptly added products in new modalities and at new price points to their offering. This portfolio-expanding tactic, which has been used time and time again in the global 3D Printing market over recent years, is a recipe for success that not only helps the innovating company but also lifts the entire market.

PROFESSIONAL SYSTEMS

The Professional price class continued its downward trajectory with -41% fewer printers shipped in Q3 2023 than a year before. This is the sixth consecutive quarter in which global shipments have fallen YoY and the third in which the drop has been -30% or more. The strategy in recent years of market leaders UltiMaker and Formlabs had generally been to offer more feature-rich products at incrementally higher price points and, until recently, customers have been receptive. However, in these inflationary times, demand has clearly shifted to “good enough” solutions that can be found in the Entry-level price class. With the exception of newcomer Nexa3D, every vendor of Professional printers saw a double-digit YoY decline in shipments of such products in the period.

ENTRY-LEVEL SYSTEMS

(This price class includes all 3D printers costing less than $2,500 and combines CONTEXT’s previous Personal and Kit&Hobby categories.)

There was 9% growth in shipments of Entry-level 3D printers in Q3 2023, thanks largely to the cannibalization of sales from more expensive Professional printers. End-market buyers in many sectors - including dental, automotive, medical & healthcare, aerospace, jewellery and consumer products - are increasingly recognising that they can get similar functionality from much cheaper models so these printers are no longer the preserve of hobbyists and general consumers. While China’s Creality continues to stand head and shoulders above other vendors in terms of global market share, recent growth is best exemplified by brands like Bambu Lab (in the FDM space) and Elegoo (in the LCD space).

OUTLOOK

A challenging 2023 has set the stage for a rebound and 3D printer shipments look to accelerate in the years to come. Currently it appears that global interest rates will remain elevated through at least the first half of 2024, however which could mean Industrial system shipments remain stagnant in the near term. Fears of regional recessions have largely abated and the fundamental value of additive manufacturing is well recognized across industries, clearing the way toward accelerated growth once the once the cost of capital lowers in the second half of the year and on into 2025.

Although the market may appear to have settled after the very public failed mergers of 2023, many companies have openly stated that they are more privately investigating strategic alternatives, meaning that sales, mergers, acquisitions and divestures may yet lie ahead. Indeed, as 2023 closed, Nano Dimension renewed its offer to take over Stratasys with other companies -- like BigRep -- also separately announced plans to go public in the year. An additional area ripe for investment is the Entry-level category as more and more companies have come to recognise this recently overlooked category.

 * Pure 3D printing companies include Stratasys, 3D Systems, Desktop Metal, Velo3D, Markforged, Prodways, voxeljet, Massivit3D, Freemelt, Xi’an BLT, Farsoon, Nano Dimensions, Zortrax and Nano Dimensions. Larger publicly traded companies which offer 3D printing systems and services include HP, Nikon SLM Solutions (now fully integrated into Nikon), GE Additive, DMG Mori, Renishaw and others. 

 

 

CONTEXT analytics, forecasts and data management solutions are embedded in the information systems of the world's major technology companies. CONTEXT processes over $200 billion of sales transactions every year for the global ITC Channel, with a team of more than 400 staff operating worldwide from London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Milan, Warsaw, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Dubai, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Auckland, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo.

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