CONTEXT reports reversal in pandemic 3D printing trends amid projections of “strong full-year growth”


Market intelligence firm CONTEXT released a report indicating that the COVID-19 lockdown-related sales boom seen in consumer-centric 3D printers may be over.

In its Q1 2022 report, CONTEXT found that while shipments of low-cost systems it calls “personal printers and kits and hobbyists” were up from pre-pandemic levels, they were down. down 25% and 47% from the first quarter of 2021. In contrast, the company says shipments of the most high-end 3D printers were “up and accelerating” in the quarter, reflecting a “total reversal” trends seen during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns.

A farm of desktop 3D printers at UTEP’s Keck Center. Photo via UTEP/Keck.

Reversing COVID-19 Lockdown Trends

As CONTEXT reported in 2020, the pandemic sparked a boom in desktop 3D printing shipments, which soared 24% between the first and second quarters of 2020 alone. One possible explanation for the variance was the use of 3D printers in this category during the first COVID-19 lockdown for many Western countries, a time when designers and manufacturers sought to contribute their skills and expertise. expertise in combating the impact of the disease.

Although CONTEXT’s latest analysis does not refer directly to PPE, the technology has been widely used in an attempt to address equipment shortages, particularly at the start of the pandemic. In the case of manufacturers, the likes of PrintParts and PostProcess 3D-printed test swabs to meet US demand, while Photocentric 3D-printed PPE for the NHS, under a multimillion-piece contract.

However, this effort has not been led by manufacturers alone, and engineers have also developed 3D printed masks, swabs, ventilator parts and other PPE over the past two years. Such equipment has been produced on such a scale that the FDA has even issued updated medical 3D printing guidelines to ensure it remains clinically compliant, and it is in this environment that 3D printing office prospered.

As the situation around COVID-19 PPE has stabilized, demand for 3D printed alternatives has also declined, and this trend is reflected in CONTEXT’s Q1 2022 report. In its analysis, the company says shipments of low-end machines, those it classifies as sub-$2,500 or self-assembled, were “significantly down” in the first quarter of 2021, but it adds that this decline was not apparent in all applications. .

The education market, in particular, continues to enjoy strong government support, with companies like Zortrax and MakerBot having recently benefited from such initiatives. While the report makes it clear that these facilities have yet to impact sales, it suggests that such subsidies and programs could “provide a boost” and “bring hope to a struggling market.” to find a new accelerator”.

The CONTEXT report identified that sales of industrial 3D printers rebounded strongly across the world in the first and third quarters.  Photo via Stratasys.
An engineer using the Stratasys F900 3D printer. Photo via Stratasys.

Growing demand for high-end 3D printers

On the other hand, while CONTEXT’s report identifies a drop in demand for low-end 3D printers, it shows that shipments of “almost all types” of industrial systems worth $100,000 or more grew in the first quarter of 2022. Within this category, binder jetting machines enjoyed the most growth, with shipments up 113% from the first quarter of 2021. The company calculates that the technology will not represents only 8% of the metal 3D printing market, but suggests that companies like GE and HP with its metal jetting process could change that in the future.

Regarding volume, the report identifies UnionTech as the leader in the high-end industrial segment, although it saw a 6% drop in shipments between the first quarter of 2021 and 2022. This drop, according to CONTEXT, was partly caused by China. The “Zero Covid” policy, which has seen many major cities locked down, and which indicates that the country’s growth is now “likely to be further dampened in the second quarter of 2022”.

In the $2,500 to $20,000 business printer category, the company’s report shows that Ultimaker and Formlabs systems accounted for 55% of all those shipped in Q1 2022. CONTEXT found that Raise3D and SprintRay saw better growth in this area over the period, but its The report also highlights the importance of “market leaders” to the division’s performance, with the merger of Ultimaker and MakerBot now expected to be followed by an “expansion of their portfolio.

Finally, in terms of designer 3D printers, which CONTEXT classifies as those priced between $20,000 and $100,000, it found that each of the top ten companies for shipments in the segment grew between first and second. quarter of 2022. 3D Systems saw MultiJet printing shipments increase by 53% in this period, while Stratasys shipped 44% more PolyJet machines. Interestingly, the report highlights existing product lines as the main driver of the 19% growth achieved in the segment during the first quarter of 2022, although sales generated via acquisitions also played a role.

Going forward, CONTEXT expects industries such as aerospace and dentistry to remain critical to the growth of industrial systems manufacturers, with shipments expected to increase 24% in fiscal 2022. More long-term, the company’s report adds that 3D printing’s continued forays into volume production, along with its viability as an insourcing tool, could lead it to a compound annual growth rate of 28 % over 5 years.

Chris Connery, head of global analysis at CONTEXT, concludes that “despite headwinds from factors such as global inflation, a slowdown in China’s economy linked to ongoing COVID mitigation efforts, looming fears regional recessions and the ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine, manufacturers of industrial 3D printers remain optimistic in their collective outlook for 2022.”

One of the meeting spaces of the World Economic Forum.
A World Economic Forum meeting space. Image via Unsplash/Evangeline Shaw.

Mapping the trajectory of 3D printing

Of course, CONTEXT isn’t the only company that specializes in gathering market intelligence, and many others have also released reports predicting that 3D printing is on course for significant growth. Wohlers Associates, which was acquired by ASTM International last year, revealed in its State of 3D Printing 2022 report that the industry rebounded from the pandemic and grew 19.5% in 2021.

On the other hand, AMPOWER’s latest 3D printing report predicts that the 3D printing market will grow at an annual rate of 18.2% over the next four years. This expansion, the firm anticipates, will be driven largely by metal 3D printing, which it expects to grow at a rate of more than 25% through 2026, compared to the growth rate of 14.4% expected. polymer technologies.

From time to time, wider international organizations also contribute their views on the direction additive manufacturing is taking as a cutting-edge technology. In February 2022, for example, the World Economic Forum asserted that 3D printing could achieve a major leap forward in the near future, but only if it can overcome its barriers to adoption.

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Featured image shows a farm of desktop 3D printers at UTEP’s Keck Center. Photo via UTEP/Keck.


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