Shipments of industrial-class 3D printers (priced above $100,000) were up by more than 8% in Q3 2019 compared with the same period the previous year, according to market intelligence from Context (London). This key sector, which accounted for almost 70% of all 3D printer revenues for the period, saw even more impressive shipment growth of 12% on a trailing 12-month basis.
“The increase came as a surprise, given the headwinds many vendors reported in the second half of the year, such as reduced demand from the struggling automotive sector, sluggish European economies and a generally weak global industrial manufacturing market,” said Chris Connery, VP Global Analysis and Research at Context.
In the industrial polymer 3D printer market, HP (now number two in global shipments) saw excellent growth, shipping 347% more printers in Q3 2019 than in Q3 2018 as it continued to roll out its more affordable color-capable units. The company also began to ship the newest iteration of its high-end, production-focused models in volume, said Context’s report.
The Chinese domestic market also grew, mostly thanks to leading Chinese vendor UnionTech. Industrial 3D printer shipments increased 36% in China year-on-year while they grew 22% in North America during that same time period. By contrast, Western Europe, the second largest global market for industrial 3D printers, saw shipments drop 28%.
Sales in this sector of the market tend to be more provincial than in other industries. There is less east-west trade because of logistics (most industrial printers are very large and very heavy) and less-than-favorable global trade conditions, which make it difficult for emerging technologies like 3D printing to flourish, said Context.
While industrial 3D metal printers made up just 32% of unit shipments during this period, they accounted for just over 51% of revenues. Metal 3D printing is one of the fastest growing additive manufacturing segments and has seen shipments increase at an average rate of 30% over the last two years. However, the dominant technology—powder bed fusion—began to struggle in the second half of 2019. In the third quarter, 18% fewer metal powder bed fusion 3D printers shipped than in the same quarter the previous year. Market leaders EOS and GE Additive reported weaker shipment figures not only for the quarter but for the trailing 12-month period, as well.
Of the three other major price classes—personal (less than $2,500), professional (between $2,500 and $20,000) and design ($20,000 to $100,000)—shipments in the professional class were most notable, said Context. Printer shipments in the third quarter in the design segment were largely flat, and shipments of personal-class printers continued to struggle, losing ground to kit-based solutions like those from China’s Creality3D. The professional segment continued to shine, however, growing by 21% on the previous year and a solid 17% on a trailing 12-month basis. Many vendors who formerly focused on the yet-to-explode consumer market have shifted their product lines to move into this price class.
Especially noteworthy in the professional class in Q3 was the performance of Formlabs, which began shipping new models in volume against strong pent-up demand. The company surged to the top of the market in this class, as the availability of their new products was bolstered by glowing reviews, said Context.
“Many forecasts for Q4 2019 and on into 2020 turned a bit cautious toward the year-end due, in part, to weaker demand from key geographies, softening orders from key vertical markets and uncertainties associated with global trade,” added Connery. “The period was also marked by significant managerial changes atop leading companies, also contributing to near-term uncertainty.”
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