Market Insights

3D printing market reaches $24.8 billion, more insights from Protolabs’ new 3D Printing Trend Report 

On-demand digital manufacturing provider Protolabs has released the 2024 edition of its annual 3D Printing Trend Report on 3D printing trends and the future of 3D printing. It paints a positive picture of the global 3D printing industry, highlighting market growth, ecosystem maturation and new technological innovations.  

The report, which draws on key market data and insights from over 700 engineering experts, reflects a healthy level of confidence in the additive manufacturing market. New micro-scale and large-format applications and the growing potential of production-scale 3D printing of end-use parts have reportedly driven this. 

According to Protolabs, the 3D printing space is growing 10.5% faster than predicted. The market size reportedly grew at a CAGR of 21% to $24.8 billion in 2024 and is expected to reach $57.1 billion by the end of 2028. 

This 3D printing market valuation is in line with market intelligence firm Wohlers Associates, which touted a 2024 figure of $20.035 billion. Interestingly, these estimates are significantly higher than that of AMPOWER, which reported a 3D printing market value of €10 million for 2023.      

Additionally, Protolabs reported that 70% of businesses 3D printed more parts in 2023 than in 2022, with 77% of respondents highlighting the medical sector as possessing the highest potential for impact.  

“3D printing has evolved to occupy an established place in manufacturing today. As it has become a more widely applied industrial manufacturing process, the industry is coming of age,” the Protolabs report claims.

“From design software through automated production solutions to enhanced post-processing methods, this budding ecosystem signals that production-level 3D printing is used by ever-growing numbers of businesses.”

Protolabs' Trend Report 3D printing market growth and forecast. Image via Protolabs.
3D printing market growth and forecast. Image via Protolabs.

3D printing moves from prototyping to production 

A key trend outlined in the Protolabs report is the fact that 3D printing is moving away from prototyping applications. 

Instead, additive manufacturing is being increasingly utilized for the serial production of end-use products. This has been driven by the increasing need for localized production amid global supply chain insecurities and environmental sustainability targets.  

According to Protolabs data, there has been significant growth in the volume of 3D printing production runs. In 2020, 36% of those surveyed said they 3D printed more than 10 parts in a single production run. This figure increased to 49% in 2021, reaching 76% in 2023.  

3D printed production run of end-use parts. Image via Protolabs.

The percentage of respondents who 3D printed over 1,000 parts per production run increased from 4.7% in 2022 to 6.2% in 2023. This reflects a shift towards the serial manufacturing of end-use parts. The number of respondents who primarily used 3D printing for end-use applications slightly increased to 21% from 20% the previous year.       

Protolabs claims that the mindset around 3D printing and production is changing, with more end-use manufacturers viewing additive manufacturing as a valid production tool. For instance, 45% of those surveyed named “Production volume and scale” as a key factor for not leveraging 3D printing. This was down from 47% in the previous year.

According to Bjoern Klaas, Protolabs’ vice president and managing director EMEA, this new report indicates that production-scale 3D printing is being used by a growing number of businesses.     

“This increase in using 3DP for end-use parts is partly being driven by a preference for more local production. These are trends we expect to see grow as businesses safeguard against supply chain disruption and sustainability concerns”, explained Klaas. 

However, there is still work to be done before end-use production becomes the primary application for additive manufacturing. Indeed, 67% of those surveyed identified prototyping as their primary application of 3D printing.   

Production run volumes of 3D printed parts in 2023. Image via Protolabs.
Production run volumes of 3D printed parts in 2023. Image via Protolabs.

AI and 3D printing: does the AM industry believe the hype?

Artificial intelligence remains a key buzzword within the world of tech. Companies such as AI build, Siemens, Authentise and Materialise have all incorporated this technology into their 3D printing software. However, according to the Protolabs report, the full potential of AI has yet to be fully realized within the 3D printing industry. 

Looking to the future, where will AI have the biggest impact within the 3D printing processes chain? 33% of respondents believe that AI will have the biggest impact at the hardware level, automating 3D printer tuning by leveraging sensors and computer vision. 

This was followed by the view that AI will improve accessibility to non-planar FDM 3D printing through improved slicer software, highlighted by 25% of respondents. Design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) was also identified as benefitting from AI innovation. This is set to include improved topology optimization, multiphysics process simulation, and AI-generated CAD. 

“AI-generated CAD is accelerating quickly, and NASA have been promoting their software, which is much more manufacturing focused, and a lot of that is really, really interesting,” added Eric Utley, 3D printing applications engineering manager at Protolabs. This software generates optimized designs in line with engineering parameters.  

What impact will AI have on the 3D printing industry? Image via Protolabs.
What impact will AI have on the 3D printing industry? Image via Protolabs.

Growth in specialized 3D printing materials 

According to Protolabs’ 2024 report, the expansion of novel materials is set to play a key role in the development of future 3D printing applications. 31% of respondents stated that multi-material 3D printing will have the biggest impact on the additive manufacturing sector.

In particular, Protolab highlights emergent material properties such as elasticity, conductivity, and heat resistance as growing within the 3D printing market. It also points to materials that are lightweight, have dissipative properties, improved stiffness and reduced UV sensitivity. As these materials become more accessible, Protolabs argues, “they are set to transform 3D printing practices.”

Protolabs’ supply chain manager Grant Fisher identified the ability to produce “unique parts with great thermal properties” using ceramics. Additionally, TPU for powder-based technologies such as MJF and SLS is highlighted as providing a bridge between rubber and plastics. Its flexibility and durability make it well-suited to gaskets and seals, wearables and medical applications.     

The technologies which will have the biggest impact on the future of 3D printing. Image via Protolabs.
The technologies which will have the biggest impact on the future of 3D printing. Image via Protolabs.

The future of 3D printing 

Robin Brockötter, a supply chain manager at Protolabs, said growing knowledge and education will enable new ideas and opportunities to transform the 3D printing sector in the future. As the rate of new developments accelerates, Protolabs believes that the entire manufacturing industry will continue to shift at pace.    

“We’re still at a time where people aren’t familiar with the full capabilities and use-cases of 3D printing,” explained Brockötter. “But as future generations of designers and engineers are being trained to learn about the capabilities of 3D printing and are entering the workforce, these innovations will become more and more common.”  

This positive outlook on the future of 3D printing was shared by 3D printing experts as part of the 2024 3D Printing Industry Executive Survey. Many respondents anticipate a “golden development period.” They expect notable developments in automation, sustainability, and increased integration and adoption into the broader manufacturing industry. 

Most of those surveyed also offered a positive 3D printing economic outlook. 62% held a positive view of external conditions, with 68% sharing that external business conditions are favorable or very favorable. 

Elsewhere, Wohlers Report 2024 echoed the belief that 3D printing will shift to the high-volume production of end-use parts. Driven by improvements to 3D printers and post-processing, the report predicts that production will move from thousands of parts to hundreds of thousands. Million-part production runs are also anticipated for small components.            

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Featured image shows 3D printing market growth and forecast from Protolabs’ 3D Printing Trend Report. Image via Protolabs.