By Blake Teipel, Ph.D., CEO and Co-founder, Essentium
2020 was a painful, unprecedented year that none of us will soon forget. But with the U.S. election behind us and the promise of effective vaccines ahead, 2021 should be significantly brighter. I’m also proud to say that the additive manufacturing industry truly rose to the challenges of the past year.
The promise of additive manufacturing has always been tremendous. But it’s not just a promise anymore—now the capability is a reality. Here are five trends that will push 3D printing to greater success in the coming year.
1: Additive manufacturing will be deployed more broadly
The question has always been: how do you use this technology to cost-effectively create not just one or two items but hundreds or thousands? Well, manufacturing companies have finally cracked the code, and there will be no turning back.
Essentium recently completed the third installment in our annual additive manufacturing industrial survey, conducted by Dimensional Research. We found that the number of companies now using additive manufacturing for full-scale production runs of hundreds of thousands of parts doubled from 7% in 2019 to 14% in 2020. And we expect that percentage to grow even larger next year.
This shift proves that additive manufacturing has evolved from the prototyping phase to the production phase. In fact, our study revealed that while 41% of companies that use 3D printing are now doing so for the full-scale production of parts, this number is set to increase to 49% in the near future.
2: Companies will work smarter, not harder
The companies that perform the best in 2021 will learn to embrace the concept of working smarter, not harder. In reality, companies will have to do both. But one example of how companies can work smarter is by shifting the way they acquire capital equipment.
Specifically, instead of relying predominantly on a CAPEX expenditure model for expensive machinery, I think it will be incumbent on companies to start leasing that equipment so they can invest in new capabilities with a lower overall risk profile.
Why? Because we are still working our way through a COVID-19-induced recession and for many companies, the capital expenditure process will remain a significant challenge. So, getting approvals for capital investments will remain a challenge throughout 2021. But if companies—and their procurement organizations—can embrace the idea of leasing equipment like industrial 3D printers, they will ultimately win through the turn more successfully.
3: Additive will take (more) flight with aerospace
The aerospace industry will see a dramatic comeback starting in 2021. We see glimmerings of this already. Recently, Boeing received approval from the FAA to fly the 737 Max after the new planes were grounded for 20 months after two fatal crashes. In a clarion demonstration of readiness, the CEO of American Airlines, his wife, and COO have already personally flown on the 737 Max demonstrating confidence in the platform. What’s more, news of highly effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna suggests that airline travel will pick up considerably later in 2021.
As the airline business on the whole recovers, additive manufacturing will also take flight with the industry. The value proposition is clear. Hundreds of airline parts can be manufactured on an industrial 3D printer in the same time it takes to assemble the components by traditional methods. Our recent announcement of longitudinal work with the USAF to certify 2X-3X more new materials in the coming years signifies the shift is accelerating.
4: More 3D printing companies will go public
In 2020, Desktop Metal made headlines when it announced its plan to go public via a deal with Trine Acquisition Corp. With a targeted valuation of about $2.5 billion and cash goals at the IPO of over $500M, Desktop will have the war chest it needs for further expansion.
I expect other prominent 3D printing companies to follow suit. And that’s a good thing. A new crop of publicly traded companies in this space can help raise the additive manufacturing industry profile as a whole and position 3D printing more prominently in the minds of industrial users looking to indeed work smarter through this turn.
5: Additive will power the new supply chain
Heading into 2021, many companies realize that producing parts themselves, without relying on global suppliers, puts them in a stronger position to get their products to market. Indeed, our survey found that 57% of manufacturers increased 3D printing of production parts to keep their supply chains flowing during the crisis. Investments like this don’t make sense to unwind. Additionally, 3D printing investment plans have changed at many companies, with 25% of manufacturers ramping up 3D printing to meet supply chain needs and 30% evaluating industrial-scale 3D printing to fill supply chain gaps.
The bottom line is this: additive manufacturing is demonstrating its sterling relevance to actual manufacturing. 3D printing is ready for prime time. The manufacturing industry will save billions of dollars in production costs while building stronger businesses that can withstand even a once-in-a-century crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic while positioning top users to sprint on the upside of the trough created by the disease itself.