3D printer market rises again thanks to demand for industrial models

The professional and design segments are also expected to reach positive growth throughout 2018, while desktop 3D printers continue to struggle.
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Markforged's X7 industrial 3D printer.

Markforged's X7 industrial 3D printer.

Five or so years back we saw a boom in crowdfunding projects and rapid advances in the 3D printer segment, and it was looking like we were set for a 3D-printer-in-every-home situation.

But despite a continued buzz around the seemingly endless possibilities that 3D printers could offer hobbyists and enthusiasts, the passion for desktop printers appears of have fizzled out somewhat over the past couple of years.

However, although personal printers haven’t quite lived up to the hype, it appears not all is lost for the total 3D printer segment.

A new forecast from CONTEXT reveals that industrial, professional and design class 3D printers saw positive sales throughout 2018, despite a struggling market for personal models.

Of the four main groups of 3D printers, CONTEXT forecasts that the industrial class will have had the strongest growth in machine shipments in 2018.

Industrial class 3D printer shipments are projected to show a 27% year-on-year shipment increase, having already seen strong 19% growth through the first three quarters.

Industrial 3D printers – a class which now includes recognisable company names including HP and GE – saw solid growth in both the polymer (plastic) and metal printer shipments through the first three quarters.

Industrial 3D polymer printer shipments were up 12% YTD Q1–Q3 2018 thanks mostly to strong increases in the US and Europe and thanks to growth from Carbon (65%) and HP (31%), but strong domestic sales from China’s Union Tech also made a significant contribution.

In spite of single-digit declines in shipments year-to-date Q1-Q3, the professional and design segments are expected to reach single-digit positive growth for the year overall.

The falls in the desktop segment, in which 13% fewer printers were shipped globally Q1-Q3 2018, are projected to have continued in Q4, leading to an overall decline in global shipments in this class for 2018 compared to 2017.

“While the likes of GE Additive, 3D Systems, EOS and others saw nice shipment growth in Industrial 3D metal printers, the real story in this class is about new, lower-priced metal printers from brands such as Markforged which saw shipments soar in 2018,” noted Chris Connery, VP for Global Analysis at CONTEXT,

In the final assessment of 2018, low-priced metal competitor Desktop Metal will join Markforged to collectively lead the segment in terms of unit volumes. These lower-priced metal 3D Printers typically sell for $100K-$125K – which stands out starkly in a category where the weighted average price in 2017 was $479K and some metal 3D printers (albeit with vastly different features and throughput) sell for more than $2M.

It is likely the design class of 3D printers will end 2018 with single-digit growth in unit shipments. Industry veteran 3D Systems was the success story of the first three quarters in this class seeing shipments increase 13%. It saw strong growth in sales of its Material Jetting products and in Q3 saw the roll-out of its long-anticipated Figure-4 stereolithography series, which is expected to help drive the category for the full year.

3D Systems was also one of the main players in the professional class, another grouping which is on track to see single-digit Y/Y unit-shipment increases. The company had previously abandoned this space a few years ago – which has been defined in recent years by the likes of Ultimaker and Formlabs – but saw strong initial shipments of its new professional DLP stereolithography printer in Q3, a trend expected to continue into 2019.

Although the final global shipping figure for Personal 3D printers in 2018 is forecast to be a whopping 370K, this could represent a single- to double-digit drop on the 400K total of 2017.

CONTEXT explained that the year has been marked by limited crowd source project wins, the negative impact of tariffs on Chinese goods shipping into the US, the world’s largest market for Personal 3D Printers, shipment declines from market leaders such as XYZprinting, Monoprice and Wanhao, and a shift back to DIY/kit solutions which only hobbyists find attractive.

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