Sculpteo shows the state of the industry

The world of 3D printing moves at such a fast pace, that sometimes it helps just to stop, breathe and take in the view. The Sculpteo State of 3D Printing report gives us a chance to reflect on the market as a whole and to see where the industry is heading.

This report is one of the biggest in the industry and 1000 participants responded to the company’s in-depth survey that it sends to influencers and those in positions of responsibility. The second edition shows the evolution of the industry over the last year, from the dying down of the media interest to the actual impact 3D printing is having on industry and the world at large.

It’s split into four parts that makes this far more than a simple statistical representation of the additive manufacturing industry. They include:

  1. Trends for 2016
  2. Executing a 3D printing strategy, which reveals the secrets of the industry players.
  3. The evolution insights section that contrasts the habits of 2015 and 2016.
  4. Sector specific insights that provide lessons from different sectors of the industry.

Out of 1000 respondents, 30% came from America, 64% came from Europe, Asia brought 5.1% to the table and Africa was 0.9%. The consumer goods market makes up 21%, Industrial Goods 14%, High tech 14%, Services 8%, Entertainment 5%, Electronics 5%, Healthcare 3%, Aeronautic and Aerospace provided 3%, Automotive 3% and there were a large amount of other smaller suppliers.

28% of the respondents identified as the CEO or owner, 23% of them were engineers, 13% were engineers, 9% were designers.

3D printing already commonplace

An impressive 80% of the respondents were already using 3D printing last year and most of them are happy with the results. 77% of respondents believed they would increase their spending on additive manufacturing in 2017 and the average budget of $3,736 rose to $6,132 in 2015. These figures are skewed, of course, as Sculpteo is a 3D printing supplier so was unlikely to survey companies with no interest.

93% of respondents believe that 3D printing works for them and that additive manufacturing is good news. It is helping then make decisions and change the course of the business. In essence, the more a company has embraced 3D printing, the greater success they believe it has delivered so far.

Speed matters

The speed of bringing a new product to market is one of the biggest advantages of 3D printing. Indeed, rapid prototyping was the reason it all started.

With costs coming down and the quality of the product going up, more and more companies are using 3D printing in product development. 26% of those that have embraced 3D printing said it’s the main reason for doing so.

Now 73% of them print in plastics, as this is largely enough for a visual representation that the company can then refine. Metal, carbon-fibre, resin and sandstone prints are on the rise, though.

Techniques by the numbers

Selective Laser Sintering is still the most popular technology, with 38% of companies naming it as their favoured method. Fused deposition modelling comes in a close second at 31% and Stereolithography is a distant third with 14%.

Customisation is becoming increasingly important with 3D printing, too, and 18% of the respondents mentioned it as their number one priority. This is set to increase in the year ahead as additive manufacturing allows for complete production and bespoke items.

Production flexibility is another key point, enabling co-creation is another factor and the flexibility of the 3D printer also means that companies can reduce tooling costs.

Skills shortage on the way

One of the big issues facing the widespread adoption of 3D printing is the skill level that most companies have. The world simply doesn’t feel it has the skillset to truly exploit 3D printing right now, except for industry specialists. Of course two things will happen to close the skills shortage from either side.

First, companies will find the right people to do the job as more individuals become 3D printing specialists. Second, the equipment will get simpler and more intuitive. The likes of Autodesk are determined to produce a simple design and print software package and both scanners and printers get more user friendly by the day.

So this is a wound that time will heal.

Encouragingly, companies are now only really seeing 3D printing as an opportunity, rather than a threat to their business. Industry on the whole is now looking to the future, with 8% saying that improvements in metal printing and 2.5% looking for improvements in colour could make a major difference to adoption rates.

Speed and quality are keys to production

Speed is, of course, a critical area that can take 3D printing from a prototyping tool through to a full-bore manufacturing option.

11% of respondents are looking forward to faster printers and 10% are waiting for better quality prints, which are basically interconnected. When we have these two things, together with an improved workflow, 3D printing will become the de facto manufacturing option.

Sculpteo’s position as a 3D printing supplier allowed it to identify what it calls ‘power users’, who can give a greater insight into the 3D printing industry as a whole. They also have valuable lessons to impart to the casual user and would-be power users.

22% of these clients are ‘3D first’ companies, as in 3D printing is their first priority when it comes to prototyping and even production. If it can be done with additive manufacturing, that’s the first route to take.

Sculpteo has valuable insights into 3D printing

Fix your files

As well as a passion for 3D printing, the power uses also have their routine for creating files fixed. They do not fluctuate between programs and they have an efficient process organised. They are also flexible when it comes to materials, which means they have a selection available at any one time and know how to select the right material for the right job.

This is a skill that comes with time and education, but simply using one material might not be the right answer if you want to truly incorporate 3D printing into your workflow.

Power users tend to focus on product development with their printing, which gives them the chance to try new products or parts, change something small and analyse the results. These 3D printing advocates are now looking forward to producing full demonstrators on their printers and feel this will help drive their whole business forward.

Have we hit the tipping point for you

As new printers come on stream with improved capabilities, every business should analyse the potential benefits of being able to produce demonstrators in house. This goes beyond development speed, Companies can potentially create pools of products, test them with focus groups and develop only the proven winners.

97% of Sculpteo’s heavy users feel that adopting additive manufacturing has given them a competitive advantage, while 61% reported a positive return on their investment. 45% of them intend to invest in specialist staff in the year ahead, too, to make the most of this newfound production and R&D weapon.

The major users don’t limit their 3D printing to just one use, either, and they average 2.3 distinct functions for their units. Once the printer is in place and paid for, it makes sense to use it as much as possible to get your money’s worth and you can do everything from prototyping to creating novelty business cards and models to send out to customers.

The sky is the limit with 3D printing and we expect more and more companies to have specialist departments in the year ahead. Sculpteo revealed what we already knew, that these are exciting times.

The full document is available on sculpteo at state-of-3D-printing-2016