Market Research Why is the 3D printing market not consolidating?
UK — Following major acquisitions between 2010 and 2012, most market experts expected the 3D printing market to consolidate very soon. But this consolidation process never happened — will it happen now?
“We expect to see the additive manufacturing market consolidating in the near future” has been the refrain of many for nearly a decade now. The thought really strengthened after major acquisition moves by industry titans Stratasys and 3D Systems between 2010-2012. Stratasys would acquire wax 3D printer company Solidscape and merge with material jetting pioneer Objet in 2011-2012, while 3D Systems completed a jaw-dropping 13 acquisitions between 2011-2012. With so many major moves by market leaders in the early 2010s, it seemed like market consolidation was just around the corner.
Yet as the decade continued, those early signs of consolidation never came to fruition. Instead, newcomers like Carbon, Formlabs, and Desktop Metal expanded the range of 3D printing technologies available and quickly grew to become headline-catching unicorns of the additive manufacturing market. Other established companies like HP and GE would throw their hats into the 3D printing ring with their own offerings. Now in the 2020s, a recent flurry of mergers and acquisitions have brought 3D printing observers to again expect the market to consolidate in the near future. In 2021, ID Tech Ex noted well over 40 mergers or acquisitions taking place in 3D printing, which seems to support that claim.
However, ID Tech Ex also tracked publicly announced investment in 3D printing-related companies in 2021, which amounted to over $ 950 million. Nearly a billion dollars of funding poured into the 3D printing industry last year, most of which went into 3D printing hardware companies. Based on that, the additive manufacturing industry isn't consolidating — it's expanding, and it's expanding thanks to continued innovation in 3D printing hardware. Over thirty years after Chuck Hull submitted his patent for stereolithography (SLA), new start-ups around the world continue to innovate on existing 3D printing technologies to access new materials and applications.
The innovation driving 3D Printing hardware's expansion
Which innovative technologies are enabling the 3D printing market to continue growing with newcomers like Azul 3D, Holo, Xerox, Massivit 3D, Evolve Additive Solutions, and more? While there are too many to fully recount in this article, there are several that ID Tech Ex has tracked given their potential. One of those is multi-material printing, specifically technologies that enable materials of different composition and/or classes to be printed in a single build. Multi-material printing has the potential to open 3D printing's door to more functional applications by allowing for the incorporation of multiple materials in a single part. Players exploring multi-material printing include more established companies like Lithoz and Admatec and start-ups like Inkbit and Aerosint.
Tangentially related to multi-material printing is bound metal extrusion (BME) and bound ceramic extrusion (BCE). Rather than printing multiple materials at once as in multi-material printing, bound metal and bound ceramic extrusion entail using thermoplastic polymers as a binder for metal or ceramic powder particles to make filaments or pellets. These filaments and pellets can then be printed through fused filament fabrication (FFF) or pellet extrusion (sometimes called fused granule fabrication (FGF)), after which the printed part gets debound in a furnace to remove the polymer binder. Following debinding (and sintering, in the case of ceramics), one is left with a fully dense metal or ceramic part. BME rose to prominence thanks to Desktop Metal and Markforged, who highlight how BME makes metal 3D printing much more accessible for the average user by lowering the price point and complexity of metal 3D printers. BCE is started to gain notice as it also increases the accessibility of ceramic 3D printing, with companies like Nanoe Zetamix and Xerion Technologies introducing ceramic filaments and specialized printers in the past few years. BME and BCE notably intersect with multi-material printing in companies like Metallum 3D and AIM 3D, who produce pellet extrusion printers capable of printing polymer, ceramic, and metal pellets in the same build.
The discussion in this article has largely focused on innovations occurring within the commercial AM market. However, historically many technological advances in additive manufacturing arise from academia, where researchers are experimenting with 3D printing in diverse fields like medicine, architecture, and carbon capture. One innovation of interest is volumetric additive manufacturing, which is being developed by scientists at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Rather than printing 2D slices layer-by-layer to create a 3D object, volumetric additive manufacturing prints a 3D object in a single step. 3D printing is classically limited by its slow build speed and poor surface finish, two issues caused by the methodology of printing 2D slices layer-by-layer. Volumetric additive manufacturing addresses both these issues, potentially allowing for significant improvements in 3D printing speed and resolution.
Though still in the laboratory and unlikely to enter the commercial market in the near-term, new technologies like volumetric additive manufacturing will feed the expansion of the 3D printing market in the long-term. When asked why the additive manufacturing industry still isn't consolidating yet, ID Tech Ex points to these innovations as the key to the growth and expansion of the $ 10 billion 3D printing hardware market.