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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing 2019: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

December 18th, 2019 by Jeff Rowe

It’s almost 2020, and while many aspects of design, engineering, and manufacturing have certainly evolved in the past couple decades, the area that arguably has had the most radical changes and influence on the overall industry is 3D printing/additive manufacturing.

Editor’s Note: Since the advent of the term “additive manufacturing,” or AM, I’ve preferred it over 3D printing because I think it more accurately describes the process, so will use it throughout this article.

Up front and technology aside, an increasing number of economic analysts are predicting a recession in 2020 or 2021, but not nearly the magnitude of the Great Recession, so many of these analysts believe this next recession is not worth worrying excessively about. Interestingly, and generally, the analysts believe that newer AM equipment companies are better positioned to weather the coming storm because they have less at risk because they are smaller and tend not to go through declined business cycles. Actually, the smaller companies can often create and serve new markets better than much larger and established AM companies.

Image Courtesy of Manufacturing Talk Radio Podcast (

According to our favorite AM resource, The Wohlers Report 2019, Wohlers Associates tracked growth and sales of 177 producers of industrial AM systems, which are those priced at $5,000 or more. This is nearly one third more than the 135 system manufacturers reported a year ago. While industrial system manufacturers grew notably, desktop 3D printing systems (those that sell for under $5,000) saw significant decline in annual growth. The overall AM market continues to trend upward, with many new players, hundreds of millions of dollars invested, and innovative new products designed for AM that few envisioned years ago.

The Report also states that the overall materials segment of the industry saw record growth in 2018. Revenue from metals grew an estimated 41.9%, continuing a five-year streak of more than 40% growth each year. Such strong activity among materials suppliers and customers is a telling indicator of the increasing use of AM for production applications.

What Happened in 2019?

Admittedly, a lot has occurred in the AM space this year, way too much to cover here, but following (in no particular order) are some of the industry’s most significant announcements:

  • GE Additive shipped the first Concept Laser M Line Factory system to its GE Aviation’s Additive Technology Center (ATC). GE Additive acquired Concept Laser in 2016 and has since then increased the build volume and redesigned the software of the metal printing system.
  • With its multi-jet fusion technology taking off, HP printed 10 million parts this year. The company is also adding in the launch of a metal jet production service. Several companies and industries have adopted HP’s technology, including Daimler Trucks North America, Fast Radius, Linear AMS, and the US Marine Corps. With these partners contributing to a big boost in production part quantities.
  • This year HP opened one of the world’s largest advanced manufacturing and research facilities in Barcelona, Spain, the 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Center of Excellence. Occupying 150,000 square feet, the Center maximizes the efforts of hundreds of additive manufacturing experts to advance HP’s industrial 3D printing technologies. “HP’s new 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing Center of Excellence is one of the largest and most advanced 3D printing and digital manufacturing research and development centers on earth – it truly embodies our mission to transform the world’s biggest industries through sustainable technological innovation,” said Christoph Schell, President of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing at HP.
  • Metal and sand AM manufacturer, ExOne and Siemens, announced a partnership intended to improve the user experience for ExOne customers in the manufacturing, aerospace, energy, and automotive industries. ExOne’s new S-Max Pro sand printer for foundries now comes with Siemens’ Digital Enterprise Portfolio of software and automation technology, including MindSphere.
  • For a company that up to now had only about metallics, Desktop Metal announced a new thermoplastic 3D printer, the Fiber. This was a surprising announcement because until now the company’s entire history has been solely focused on developing metal AM technology. Thus far, the company has marketed its Desktop Metal Studio system, a relatively inexpensive, office-friendly unit targeted at organizations unable to afford the high price of traditional large-scale metal AM machines requiring specially controlled environments.
  • A relatively small but innovative company, Aleph Objects (LulzBot and other machine models), announced it was forced to lay off virtually all of its employees, but shortly thereafter announced that it had been acquired by Fargo Additive Manufacturing Equipment 3D (FAME 3D). It’s unclear at this time what the implications of the acquisition are, but it appears that the new company would like to continue with business as usual with as little disruption as possible to customers. Grant Flaharty, CEO of Aleph Objects, and now FAME 3D said, “LulzBot is one of the core leaders in the desktop 3D printing industry. We couldn’t stand by and watch this type of innovation to go unrealized. FAME 3D is continuing the open source legacy for its customer products. Now with solid financial backing, we can continue with cutting edge innovation, high quality long-lasting printers, and product advancements aimed at providing industry-leading solutions. LulzBot will be placing a renewed effort on customer support and responsiveness to customer feedback to help improve its current and future product offerings.”
  • Carbon raised over $260 million dollars in a new funding round. Most of the new capital will go towards a new facility and better R&D. “Carbon’s business model is as innovative as its technology. Its “hybrid SaaS” business model is an industry first for manufacturing, enabling a high level of predictability and recurring revenue,” said Ellen Kullman, Lead Director of Carbon. “Having designed smart hardware from the ground up that is updatable via regular, over-the-air software upgrades, the team is ushering in a new era of high-tech manufacturing, one destined to unlock the full promise of Industry 4.0.”
  • Not to be outdone, in a series D round, Markforged raised $82 million in funding from various partners in a bid for all new projects. The company is advancing its product roadmap with new materials and initiatives. It will also aid in their global expansion plans and in expanding the reach of 3D printing within various industries such as aerospace.
  • Although ongoing for about a year, color 3D printer manufacture RIZE, Inc. announced a deeper partnership with Dassault Systèmes intended to drive the adoption of additive manufacturing. Through the collaboration, the companies will jointly offer a 3D printing solution to North American customers that supports a range of applications and services, covering prototyping, tooling and end-use production. “Our customers are focused on using additive manufacturing and are looking for ways to accelerate the business value,” said Noam Ktalav, Director Partner Excellence, Global Value Solutions, Dassault Systèmes. “The combination of RIZE’s Smart Spaces and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform provides a strong package to help customers better realize the value of this transformative technology.” DS getting into the hardware business? I never thought I’d see it with such a software-oriented company, but then stranger things have happened.

Although not directly related to 3D printing/additive manufacturing, per se, I thought the biggest event in the engineering software space was PTC’s acquisition of Onshape. I think this could potentially be a much bigger deal than first meets the eye and something that the rest of the traditional CAD industry will monitor with some trepidation and a sense of urgency that hopefully will shake things up in a positive way.

What’s Next in 2020 and Beyond?

Looking ahead, I think the following will be among the most significant events to occur in the AM realm in 2020:

New Materials – Although new materials are coming on the AM scene all the time, a couple of the more interesting ones suitable for production are from Carbon and 3D Systems. The new Carbon material, RPU 130, is composed of Susterra propanediol, made from corn sugar, and is a totally bio-based material that is much more eco-friendly when compared to petroleum based alternatives. The new 3D Systems material is what the company claims to be the first direct print photopolymer with thermoplastic characteristics and behavior. This new material is said to have a good surface finish with minimal need for post-processing. Material chemistry will continue to be a driving force for the AM industry.

Production Inroads – This seems to trend that has been ongoing for several years as an increasing number of industries adopt and implement AM parts on a higher volume, production basis using both plastics and materials. A barrier that in many cases hinders wider AM adoption is costly post processing that can negate some AM’s benefits.

Bioprinting – Along with mass production, custom printing for the medical and other industries, bioprinting is about to enter the spotlight, although it is in early stages of development and realistic outcomes. In other words, don’t expect to see manufactured organs on the market anytime soon, but there is a lot of capital being expended and research conducted for creating 3D-printed cells, tissues, and organs.

An Industry Divided – Although a division has existed for years between industrial/production AM machines (>$5000) and DIY 3D printers (<$5000), there is an area in the middle that combines the features, capabilities, and material choices of the so-called high-end and the affordability and relative simplicity of the low-end. Expect to see exciting things happening in the middle ground in 2020.

Industry Consolidation – The AM industry, like any other maturing industry, is subject to inevitable evolution, growth, and consolidation. Although new AM companies will continue to emerge, probably just as many existing ones will merge and be acquired in a perpetual consolidation. It’s not just larger AM companies that will acquire smaller AM companies either; don’t be surprised to see companies with no prior direct AM capabilities get into the mix through acquisition(s), much like General Electric did in forming GE Additive.

The coming year, 2020, promises to see the AM industry grow with new technologies, materials, and possibilities. All in all, an exciting future, both near- and long-term.

Category: Industry Predictions

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