Additive manufacturing (AM) refers to the manufacturing of 3D objects—components, parts, or entire products—by systematically adding material, layer upon layer, according to software-based instructions (usually a CAD program). The materials used could be metal, polymer, or ceramics.
AM technology has many advantages over conventional manufacturing, including the ability to innovate faster and produce intricate, lightweight, and durable designs with low material wastage and at a moderate cost. As such, AM is increasingly used for various industrial applications. The most prominent use case has been rapid prototyping. However, other use cases are picking up, including tooling, masking, jigs, and fixtures as well as the development of end-use parts.
The widespread adoption of AM technology was triggered by the expiry of several early patents during the 2009–2014 period. This was followed by an influx of companies developing proprietary technologies aimed at overcoming the drawbacks of AM like improving print speed to enable high-volume production. These proprietary AM technologies combined with AI, robotics, and cloud connectivity are taking the industry to new heights.
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the entire global manufacturing industry. In particular, demand for healthcare equipment escalated during this period, while manufacturers were unable to keep up. Against this backdrop, additive manufacturing (AM) represented a viable alternative to traditional manufacturing.
During the five months from February 15 to July 15, 2020, AM was used to make 38 million face shield parts, 12 million nasal swabs, 2.5 million ear savers, 241,000 mask parts, and 116,000 ventilator parts in the US.
Startups in the 3D printing segment experienced a surge in interest from healthcare companies and institutions focused on additively manufactured healthcare equipment.
In the long term, manufacturers are likely to reassess operations to overcome supply chain disruptions, which may accelerate the adoption of sustainable solutions like AM.
The most popular segment in the AM industry appears to be on-demand manufacturing. Players in this segment offer even small-scale manufacturers a viable entry point into the AM ecosystem, enabling the use of 3D printing tech without the upfront set-up cost. Most incumbents also operate in this segment and enable customers to access these services virtually. Typically, this means that customers can request quotes and order 3D-printed products and parts online. Incumbents regard these digital platforms as key differentiators; for instance, on-demand manufacturer FATHOM has patented its online price quotation system for 3D-printed objects.
The 3D printers segment has also fared well, with most well-established disruptors operating in this segment. Companies that develop 3D printer systems typically offer their own software and materials while operating through a network of distributors. They also partner with other companies to jointly develop technologies and complementary offerings. For example, incumbent TRUMPF has partnered with material technology startup Equispheres to use its AM powders on TRUMPF’s 3D printers.
Most disruptors either sell 3D printers or operate as on-demand manufacturers, with some even engaging in both segments. Most companies in these two segments are still in the seed or early stages, although several have transitioned into the growth stage. Comparatively fewer startups operate in the AM materials, AM software, and post-printing solutions segments, with most being early-stage players. In part, the relative popularity of segments like 3D printers may stem from the all-inclusive and end-to-end nature of these solutions. 3D printer companies typically offer their own AM materials and software, reducing the demand for third-party, standalone materials and software providers. To remain relevant, AM materials, software, and post-printing companies have worked to create solutions compatible with other AM players. For example, post-printing solutions provider Postprocess Technologies’ software and hardware are compatible with the products of major AM players like 3D Systems, Nexa3D, hp, Carbon, and Desktop Metal.
By mid-2022, early entrants like Desktop Metal, Carbon, Markforged, 3D Systems, Formlabs, and Velo3D had collectively raised over USD 2.5 billion. Among these, Desktop Metal achieved unicorn status with a Series E round in 2019 before listing on the NYSE in 2020. Privately held companies Carbon and Formlabs also achieved unicorn status through Series E funding rounds in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
Most of the disruptors enter the market with proprietary technology featuring variations on core underlying tech to enable differentiation. Since AM technologies are yet to achieve peak utilization relative to traditional manufacturing methods like CNC machining, there remains intense market competition, as AM companies constantly look to enhance print speed and enable high-volume printing.
3D Systems sells 3D printers with related materials and software for concept modeling, prototyping, rapid tooling, and digital manufacturing. The company targets aerospace and defense, automotive, jewelry, semiconductor, and turbomachinery industries as well as dental and medical devices in healthcare. Previously, 3D Systems also offered on-demand manufacturing; however, this unit of the business was divested in June 2021 to focus on developing 3D printers.
3D Systems’ range of 3D printers is supported by several software solutions for reverse engineering, fast designing, workflow integration, inspection, fleet monitoring, and remote diagnostic applications.
The company has obtained over 1,000 patents and uses printing technologies for plastic and metal including stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), multi-jet printing (MJP), color-jet printing (CJP), and direct metal printing (DMP), using materials like plastic, elastomer, wax, metal, and biocompatible materials. In September 2022, 3D Systems introduced CuNi30 –a new corrosion-resistant, copper-nickel alloy targeting marine, offshore oil and gas, and chemical and nuclear industries.
3D Systems has made several acquisitions including German AM solutions provider for healthcare Kumovis (February 2022), polymer-based 3D printer developer Titan Additive (February 2022), and digital manufacturing solutions provider Oqton (September 2021) to expand operations.
Key customers and partnerships
3D Systems sold printers through a partner network and solution sales specialists spanning 68 countries, as of May 2022.
Funding and financials
3D Systems was listed on the NYSE (DDD) in 2014 and raised USD 264.2 million in funding so far. The company recorded revenues of USD 615.6 million in 2021, growing at 10.5% YoY, with revenue adjusted for divestitures increasing 31.8% YoY. However, the company recorded an operating loss of USD 33.1 million in 2021, an improvement on the net loss of USD 119 million recorded in FY2020, due to growth in the top line and better expense management.
Most incumbents entered the additive manufacturing (AM) space after several patents in fused deposition modeling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA) expired during 2009–2014, reducing the cost of the technology.
HP, a leader in the 2D printer market, was one of the earliest to actively engage in the space, expanding its portfolio from 2D to 3D printers by leveraging favorable market dynamics. Comparatively, manufacturing conglomerates like Siemens and General Electric (GE) first started using AM tech to achieve productivity gains in their operations. It was only later that they started offering AM solutions to third parties, growing through in-house tech development and acquisitions. Through a combination of in-house expertise and partnerships, these incumbents offer a range of products from selling 3D printers, software, and materials to offering on-demand manufacturing services.
The majority of incumbents, like Fast Radius, Xometry, Shapeways, Fictiv, Proto Labs, and FATHOM, operate only in the on-demand manufacturing segment by offering digital manufacturing services. These companies use AM tech as well as other conventional manufacturing technologies like CNC machining and injection molding.
Other incumbents include engineering software providers like ANSYS and Autodesk as well as specialty material providers for manufacturers like Allegheny Technologies Incorporated (ATI) and PyroGenesis.
German manufacturing conglomerate Siemens offers on-demand additive manufacturing (AM) solutions in the form of on-demand manufacturing, AM software services, and consultation services. Siemens first started using AM tech in its operations in 2008 to accelerate gas turbine innovation. In 2012, Siemens used AM to make a machine for burner repair, which reduced the time taken to repair burner tips by around 70%. By 2016, an automated AM facility that produces gas turbines was opened. Siemens now reportedly owns one of the largest fleets of metal AM printers globally to produce gas turbine parts and repair turbine blades and tips.
Currently, Siemens is involved in the AM space on several different fronts. In 2015, Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) software Siemens NX was updated to include AM solutions. It offers a range of software solutions for AM including generative engineering to create optimal designs with optimized surfaces and lattice (open-celled) structures, setting-up build preparation tools to maximize efficiency, simulation of the build process, validation of the printability of designed parts, connecting machines, and post-processing solutions. It also offers IoT and analytics capabilities to monitor the AM process and analyze data to improve these processes. Siemens also offers additional software solutions like SIMATIC, SINUMERIK, and SIMOTION to automate AM processes. The automation technologies offered are compatible with all major existing AM technologies like powder bed fusion, binder jetting, material extrusion, and direct energy deposition.
Additionally, the manufacturing consultation arm of Siemens, known as Advanta, also offers AM-related services. Advanta offers services like part identification, design, and material definition, assessing technology feasibility, prototype manufacturing, process design, and factory planning and implementation to help businesses integrate AM into their operations. Siemens also operates several AM hubs in Germany, the US, Singapore, and China that serve as local experience centers and demonstration facilities for AM solutions. In 2018, the company also piloted a cloud-based online collaborative platform, bringing together AM designers, engineers, manufacturers, OEMs, AM material vendors, and software providers to enable on-demand manufacturing and digitalization of the order-to-delivery process. The program was officially launched in 2019.
Siemens has both developed its AM technology in-house and grown through investments, partnerships, and several acquisitions. For example, the company acquired AM software company Atlas 3D (2019) and AM metal parts maker Materials Solutions (2016) to expand AM capabilities. Siemens’ AM partners include HP, Xerox, Elem, Additive Solutions, Nikon Corporation’s subsidiary Morf3D, Roboze, and ExOne, among others. Siemens is also one of the five initial partners of “AM Forward,” a program by the US Government to support small and medium companies to adopt AM. In March 2022, Siemens invested in MakerVerse, a joint venture between Siemens Energy and ZEISS, a German manufacturer of optical systems and optoelectronics, which combines industry expertise to connect industrial clients with a global network of certified AM suppliers.
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