3D Printing is one of the technology disruptions with the potential to redefine methodologies across a wide array of industries radically. The technology can not only accelerate the pace of production but also significantly improve the quality.
3D Printing is a method in which the material is printed under computer control to produce a three-dimensional product, usually layer by layer. The manufacturing industry predominantly uses it to print rapid prototypes, complex shapes, and small patch production through special polymers, metal alloys, concrete, etc.
While the days of consumer hype for 3D Printing are now behind us, it can still seem like sci-fi with its mainstream portrayals. Movies and shows still treat technology like magic than a reality of several of today’s production shop floors.
With the tagline, ‘you can 3D print anything,’ it is not only a viable technology suite but a maturing industry.
Getting into the Mainstream
3D Printing or additive manufacturing gradually gets mainstream attention in India after years of limited adoption as most industries faced supply chain disruptions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Following the outbreak, several 3D printing startups across the country collaborated to address the shortage of vital medical equipment such as face shields and ventilator valves.
Market experts claim that since then, the 3D printing application has surged. The demand is now stronger across multiple industries like pharmaceuticals, defense, aerospace, jewelry, construction, and FMCG, fast-moving consumer goods.
According to Swapnil Sansare, the CEO of Divide By Zero Technologies (1), a 3D printing firm based in Mumbai, previously, the automotive space was the biggest user of 3D Printing. It accounted for up to 70% of all demand while 30% came from others. However, in the past few months, the stats have changed.
Last month, a critical aero-engine component, developed by Wipro 3D and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, received an airworthiness certification and award by the DRDO, Defence Research, and Development Organization. By the end of 2020, L&T Construction had successfully 3D printed the first two-story building using a special concrete mix (2).
According to Mahesh Makhija, Partner at EY, a technology consulting organization (3), India is witnessing an increased adoption of 3D printing technologies with growth rates of more than 30% y-o-y across materials. The sector has evolved from being a prototyping tool to end-use production with metal AM, additive manufacturing, leading the course.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, the manufacturing sector has been under a lot of stress. Utilizing 3D Printing, companies would break centralized production load centers into small manufacturing hubs that they can set up close to the target market.
According to Tanmay Shah, Imaginarium’s head and marketing head (4), the pandemic forced global supply chains to shut down and compelled companies to restructure their manufacturing locally. Another significant learning amid the pandemic was the risks of blocking capital in inventory that lays unused.
Experts believe that the Indian government’s schemes to boost local manufacturing and reduce its dependence on China are likely to drive 3D printing adoption further. Moreover, as the focus shifts towards domestic production with the Make in India push, companies are likely to move high-cost imported part products to 3D Printing for manufacturing at scale (5).
Global Market Size
The industry includes 3D printers, materials, software, and other related services. There are estimations that 3D printers would account for about half of the market revenue in FY 2020. Moreover, software and other related services would also experience significant growth.
Projected Spending on 3D Printing Globally in 2019
According to Statista (6), there is anticipation that the global market for 3D printing products and services would exceed 40 billion USD by 2021. There are expectations that the industry would grow at a CAGR, Compound Annual Growth rate of 26.4% between 2020 and 2024.
3D Printing Products and Services Worldwide Market Size from 2020 to 2024
What’s more interesting is that the markets for on-demand parts services and CAD, computer-aided design software would also triple. While discrete manufacturing is presently the dominant space in the industry, there are predictions that technology would also play a vital role in the healthcare sector.
It is worth highlighting that 3D Printing can utilize several materials for a wide range of applications. New applications and materials are continually developed at a rapid pace. These new applications are likely to set foot in a wide range of industries.
Polymers and plastics are among the most commonly used materials in 3D Printing and additive manufacturing. But, a wide array of other materials are also employed in the field. It includes materials like metals and human tissues for prototype development, finished parts, and even organ transplants.
Among these, the fastest-growing services for a specific material type include metals and metals alloys, according to Statista. Notably, the size of the metal and metal alloys 3D printing services market stood at only about 266 million USD in 2017 worldwide. Even though the technology of metal 3D printing is relatively nascent, breakthroughs take place every year.
3D Printing Market Dynamics
3D printing technology carries several benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques. Anyone can print anything from the comfort of their couch with a small machine and a bit of patience.
With the technology, prototyping is quick, customizing is much efficient, and machines can be set up almost anywhere. It means that one can produce a lot closer to where the products need to go. However, there are certain restraints since 3D Printing can be quite slow, expensive, and it only really works well for few materials.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted these opportunities and obstacles and showed businesses that there is value in creating the kinds of disruptions in supply chains that 3D printing technology promises. However, at the same time, it also made businesses realize that what works for certain products may not apply to others.
The question is whether the technology gets relegated to the outer fringes of the trade shows in India or shifts as a more integral part of the way we make things when the dust settles.
In a Protocol report, Michelle Shanler, Gartner’s analyst (7), stated that the supply chain broke amid the COVID-19 pandemic and 3D Printing is now one solution for the gaps. The market is still waiting for an event such as this for that to be proven.
Some of the largest 3D printing companies have stepped up to help bridge the gap that covid-19 opened in the supply chain, especially for protective equipment for healthcare workers.
However, several in the 3D printing industry believe that the technology can only solve some manufacturing hurdles. While manufacturing at scale is not an issue after iterating and settling on a design, there are still flaws in 3D Printing as a manufacturing method.
There are needs for several options in 3D printing technologies so that it would continue to progress to the point where it can compete with traditional manufacturing techniques, especially on price.
Nevertheless, experts across the globe agree that 3D Printing would play a greater role in the manufacturing ecosystem moving forward. Moreover, personalizing products is an often difficult task for traditional manufacturing. Smaller-batch and higher-value items such as medical equipment would make a lot of sense with 3D Printing even after the pandemic recedes.
The coronavirus pandemic slowdown has indeed boosted 3D printing technology for local manufacturing and production. According to Crunchbase, about 1 billion USD funding has been poured into the industry since March 2020 (8).
And with cost decreasing significantly in recent years, the technology has become more accessible to everyday entrepreneurs.
There seem to be no limits to 3D printing technology’s potential, from prosthetics to luxury watches to stop-motion films.
We found several opportunities in 3D Printing in the pandemic-impacted world, including niche manufacturing, tabletop miniatures, and community support.
There are several billion-dollar companies that we have had never heard of before that manufacture specific, behind the scene products.
It is amazing to see how little businesses are tucked away around us from plastic that goes on the outside of playing cards deck, or components used by skate manufactures, or tools that only certain types of dentists use.
3D Printing technology is a perfect match for these products because of its high precision and efficiency.
Examples of niche production startups include:
- Shapecrunch: It offers 3Dprinting services for insoles of shoes. Users or doctors can use their app to take three photos of the feet and submit them. The company then uses an algorithm to convert the photos into a 3D model and print it. Then it ships the insoles to the clients. Since its inception in 2015, it has clocked over 250k USD funding.
- Chizel: It operates a cloud platform and offers data-driven solutions for on-demand 3D printing services for industrial applications. Since its inception in 2014, Chizel has clocked over 120k USD fundings.
- Next Big Innovation Labs: The company focuses on creating living tissues and organs through 3D bioprinting technology.
Other niche opportunities include random household products such as plastic shelves and water filters. One can retail these pieces of plastic at a significant margin.
Apart from selling directly to individuals, there is an opportunity to set up systems with property managers or large apartment complexes.
One can create an app for household appliances. Property owners or residents can scan the model number to obtain data of parts and then see if one can obtain a cheaper model via 3D Printing. For instance, instead of paying over 70 USD for a dishwasher basket, 3D Printing would only cost about 2 to 3 USD of filament (9).
Minis for tabletop and role-playing games is a space that has skyrocketed recently.
Another opportunity is to allow individuals to custom design, 3D print, and even paint their figurines. Notably, subreddits in the industry are also blowing up.
For instance, 3dSelfiy offers 3D miniatures and customized 3D printed gifts to its customers. Think3d is another such startup that offers 3D custom miniatures and other Printing services, including design, equipment procurement, and prototyping.
Notably, r/MiniPainting, the ideas and techniques for painting and converting minis, has more than 316k subscribers. r/DnDIY, do-it-yourself projects for tabletop RPGs, has more than 70k subscribers. And, r/PrintedMinis, 3D Printing miniatures for tabletop games, has over 55k subscribers.
Entrepreneurs can also build peer-to-peer marketplaces for custom designs and prints or even go super niche for some popular games.
Subscriptions are also a good match for the audience because of the extremely loyal fan base. It turns more into a culture than having fun.
Other subscriptions that would work well for this audience include finishing materials for 3D printed minis such as paints, primer, sandpaper, and varnish.
Education, and Community Support
The accessibility of 3D printers has given a boost to everyday hobbyists and learners. According to Keywords everywhere, more than 3k people search ‘how to 3D print’ every month.
There is an opportunity in the space to offer cohort-based courses that allow students from 0 to 1, like 3D Printing for beginners, which gets more than 1k searches every month, as per Keywords Everywhere.
For instance, Objectify Technologies offers a 3D printing marketplace where users can upload their 3D designs, share them, and attract customers to purchase their designs. So far, the startup has received over 50k USD fundings.
Another example is 3Dexter in the Indian startup ecosystem. It assists educational institutes in building 3D modeling and Printing as a skill in the curriculum for students. Since its inception in 2015, the company has secured over 150k USD fundings.
One can also create themes based on what people are most interested in, like miniatures, architecture models, candles, etc.
Subscription service or community where people can seek guidance and support can also take off. A subreddit, r/fixmyprint, where people help each other with their 3D print issues, has more than 56k subscribers and has surged 4x since the past four years (12).