3D Printing in 2021: Key Trends Expected in the Industry

 |  Louisa Allen

3D Printing in 2021: 9 Key Trends Expected in the Industry.

2020 is finally over. There's no question that it's been a difficult year for all businesses, and with the pandemic still ongoing, we need to stay realistic. There's a good chance that business isn't going back to "usual" in the coming year.

With that being said, 3D printing continues to grow in terms of industry awareness and application. A lot of the trends predicted for 2020 actually were accelerated because of the pandemic, such as on-demand short batch production and supply chain resiliency, which brings us to today's topic - what can we expect from the additive manufacturing industry in 2021? Here are some key predictions from the experts:

1. 3D Printing Software Will Become Critical

According to the CEO of Shapeways, Greg Kress, scaling involves more than just producing bigger batches than before. It also involves efficient and consistent 3D printing. With software, you're able to do both. 

3D printing software should be able to guide you step-by-step throughout the entire manufacturing process. It allows you to design as well as print at scale, and it provides you with insight on how to correctly produce 3D-printed models, which ensures that you will always print quality products. Moreover, respondents (AM clients and AM adopters) of an HP survey state that data and software will enhance the design capabilities of this technology.

2. Increased Demand For Personalization and Customization

One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is that it enables manufacturers to customize products based on consumer demand at a much lower cost. In fact, some companies have already implemented mass customization using this technology, allowing them to produce personalized products for their customers at a more competitive price.

For example, Cobra Golf is offering the first-ever 3D-printed personalized commercial putter. Another example is SmileDirectClub, which is producing 3D-printed dental aligners. According to a survey conducted by HP among AM clients and AM adopters, 90% of the respondents would go for mass customization if they could manufacture personalized products using 3D printing.

3. The Emergence of New 3D Printer Technologies

The pandemic may have slowed down many industries, but it hadn't stopped the evolution of 3D printing technology. Several companies have been working hard this past year and will be releasing new machines in 2021.

One of these companies is GE Additive who will be launching its Binder Jet Technology platform this year. According to Jake Brunsberg, Product Line Leader, the goal of this technology is to make additive mass production of game-changing designs a reality for low cost, high volume industries. 

Desktop Metal's P-50 will also be released this year. This platform features metal binder jetting technology that will enable volume additive production in a variety of industries such as medical, aerospace, oil and gas, and automotive industries. According to Desktop Metal, this machine can reach print speeds of 12,000 CCs/ hour, which means that it's able to build hundreds of thousands or even millions of parts a year.

4. Increased Investment in AM Technology

Based on a survey conducted by 3D printer supplier Makerbot, a subsidiary of Stratasys, 74% of 1,200 respondents across various industries will be investing in Additive Manufacturing technology in 2021. 50% of those plan to invest up to $100,000. Why? According to MakerBot CEO Nadav Goshen, 3D printing enables companies to improve their resilience and responsiveness. Both of which help promote increased profitability.

 

And he's not wrong. Because of the pandemic, companies need to invest in technologies that will help them overcome the challenges they are facing in the new normal, which includes supply gaps and remote work. Additive manufacturing is the ideal solution for these problems because it simplifies the supply chain, doesn't require a lot of labor, and provides a quick return on investment.

5. Rise of New 3D Printing Services

3D printing has already changed the way we do business. It also has allowed the emergence of new business models such as 3D printing online services where customers can have their designs printed for a fee. 

However, adopting additive manufacturing is not easy, especially with more and more technologies, tools, and software emerging. Those who were able to invest early have had time to learn and adapt. Those who are new to 3D printing will need to do the same, but within a shorter time frame if they want to stay competitive.

According to Materialise Vice President for Medical, Brigitte de Vet, this means that there will be a need for "services that guide companies along this path." Consultancy services can share their expertise on the possibilities and limitations of additive manufacturing, as well as which manufacturing methods are the most suitable for a company's product. As a result, the risk of such a big investment is minimized.

6. Increase in Supply Chain Agility

2020 has taught us many lessons, one of which is that we cannot take the availability of essential medical products and consumer goods for granted, as we've learned due to shortages and quality issues that occurred during the pandemic because of centralized mass manufacturing.

3D printing played a large part in overcoming those problems. One notable example is when a hospital in Northern Italy faced a shortage of supplies, specifically replacement valves for a reanimation device. The hospital worked with Issinova, a local 3D printing company, to reverse engineer the device and print it. Other applications of 3D printing during the pandemic include the rapid production of PPEs and nasopharyngeal swabs that are used to test for COVID-19.

In the coming year, companies will continue to evaluate their suppliers as well as any redundancies in their supply chain. Many will consider distributed manufacturing as well as high-mix-low-volume on-demand manufacturing. 3D printing will definitely be a part of those conversations.

7. 3D Printing Will Attract More Investors

More companies will be spending money to adopt additive manufacturing to their business. Venture capital firms will invest in 3D printing companies either to create new revenue streams or strategically position themselves in this market.

It's quite obvious that the accelerated growth of additive manufacturing will continue in the next few years. This technology allows businesses to adapt and adjust quickly to new market conditions, which makes it an attractive investment for venture capitalists.

8. Increased Cross-sector Collaboration and Training

The future of digital manufacturing does not lie solely on the shoulders of additive manufacturing experts. We have already witnessed cross-sector collaborations in the AM industry over the past few years.

One example is the Smart Bridge that is being built by MX3D. This 3D-printed stainless steel bridge is a collaboration between MX3D, Autodesk, The Alan Turing Institute, and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS). 

While MX3D provides its AM expertise, Autodesk is providing cloud services for the collection of data. The Alan Turing Institute is designing and installing a sensor network on the bridge, while AMS will be responsible for implementing new ways to use the data. This type of partnership is something experts expect to see continue in 2021.

In addition, to help spread and grow the use of 3D printing in various industries, digital manufacturers need to provide professional training to more workers. 64% of the respondents of the HP survey agree.

9. The Future is Unclear but Bright

There's no way to guarantee that all of these predictions will come true in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis continues and will undoubtedly affect business plans and strategies for the coming year. But as we have seen this 2020, 3D printing is the ideal solution for this kind of situation, so we can definitely expect some form of growth in this industry in the near future.

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About the author: Louisa is a content marketing professional and editor creating her successful career past 2 years at D3D Printing. She is a goal-oriented, creative individual with a unique voice in writing, editing, and optimizing content for various projects. She's a devoted mom and an excellent piano player.

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