3D printing is a dynamic industry, with so many rapid changes that it’s hard to keep up. Fortunately, there are companies such as Sculpteo that are willing to do the hard work of compiling industry data from year to year and presenting it in comprehensive yet easy to read reports. We’ve been following Sculpteo’s annual State of 3D Printing Report since its inception in 2015, and now the company has released their 2017 edition, highlighting the latest views and priorities of the technology’s users.
First, let’s take a quick look at the demographics of the respondents to Sculpteo’s survey, which they send out every year to gauge who’s using 3D printing technology and what they’re doing with it. Nearly 1,000 people responded to this year’s survey, with the majority of them answering from Europe and North America – though this year’s percentage of Asian respondents was 4% higher than in 2016.
Respondents came from 62 countries, 10 more than last year, with consumer goods, industrial goods and high-tech remaining the highest-represented sectors. 29% of respondents identified as engineers, followed by 28% CEOs, 10% freelancers and 7% designers, which the company noted was “quite the opposite” of last year’s trend featuring most responses coming from CEOs/owners. Worryingly, 92% of respondents were men, while only 8% were women, highlighting the ever-present gender gap in this field, which many are working to bring attention to, including those on the Sculpteo team.
Overall, respondents are feeling pretty good about 3D printing, with 47% reporting a greater return on their 3D printing investments than last year. An impressive 90% of respondents see 3D printing as an important competitive advantage. Spending on 3D printing increased over the past year, with respondents indicating that they expect their spending to go up again next year. Spending has increased steadily since the report has been coming out: budgets for 3D printing technology and services have increased on average to $9,504 in 2017 compared to $6,132 in 2016 and $3,736 in 2015
“These elements show that the respondents are loyal to additive manufacturing and that they consider this technology as a real partner for their activity,” Sculpteo states. “As a result, we can say that the market is becoming more stable and mature.”
Acceleration of product development was reported as the most popular usage of 3D printers – as it has been each time Sculpteo has offered this report – followed by increased customization and production flexibility. Interest in purchasing 3D printers went down a bit, showing that many respondents prefer using service bureaus over investing in their own equipment. Plastic is still the most used 3D printing material, followed by resin and then metal, with FDM standing out as the most used technology, followed by SLS and then SLA.
“As new materials come up, our respondents also use new technologies like Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) and Fusion Jet,” Sculpteo adds. “The important use of SLA, DLP, Polyjet and the arrival of CLIP also shows that 2016 has been the year of resin.”
A special report on metal 3D printing was produced by Business Case, Sculpteo’s new artificial intelligence engine. The software evaluates whether a CAD file is optimized for 3D printing, and also recommends which materials are the most appropriate for each application or part. The most recommended metal material by far was aluminum, followed by stainless steel. When asked why respondents are using metal 3D printing, cost reduction was the most popular response, with users reporting multiple benefits from using the technology.
A new question this year focused on how much experience users have with 3D printing. The median experience level is one to two years, showing that this continues to be a young and growing industry. Only 20% of respondents consider themselves to be experts in 3D printing, while 40% consider themselves beginners and 40% intermediates.
“No surprise, 3D Printing expertise requires highly skilled graduates with technical backgrounds. 97% of the candidates being sought are technical recruits (only 3% of project managers). This shows a need for trained people in the field of 3D Printing,” Sculpteo states. “3D Printing is getting more professional, needs specific departments, and specific experts: designers who can consider the specific 3D Printing constraints, engineers who study 3D Printing materials and how the printing process impacts an object’s properties, operators who understand how to operate each 3D printers. As a result, expertise should strongly grow in the next years.”
Expenses and attitudes towards 3D printing were similar in Europe and North America, while the applications were somewhat different: Americans seem to use 3D printing mainly for design and production, while Europeans use it mostly for research and development.
Trends that respondents see having a major effect on the 3D printing industry include metal 3D printing, overall cost decline, and innovation, as well as rising new technologies like CLIP. Like in their previous reports, Sculpteo focused in on the segment of users they call Power Users, which went from 26% to 30% of respondents this year, showing a greater level of expertise among more users. A few statistics about Power Users that stand out:
92% of Power Users reported that they have a specific person or people inside their companies to design 3D models, showing that specialized 3D printing departments are becoming more common
57% of Power Users own at least one 3D printer
Most Power Users believe their competitors also use 3D printing
The remainder of the report breaks down responses by sector, focusing on the most heavily represented sectors of consumer goods, industrial goods, high technology and services. The main takeaway of the report is that 3D printing is growing. Despite the fading of the hype and the reports that 3D printing has been overestimated, the State of 3D Printing report shows increased adoption, increased spending, and increased jobs related to the technology – as well as increased knowledge.