Industry experts weigh in on expectations and predictions for the growth of AM
With its roots dating back to the 1980s, the additive manufacturing industry is continually transforming and evolving. And now, as we enter 2022, some 40 years on from the beginnings of 3D printing, we are starting to have a clearer picture of what the long-term future of the industry will look like. When looking at expected 2022 additive manufacturing trends, It really does feel as though the industry is on the precipice of maturation, with true, game-changing applications being realized, industry consolidation and a clear understanding of where AM will make a difference.
To mark the beginning of this new year, we wanted to hear from AM industry experts about their outlooks and predictions for 2022. We received several highly insightful responses and quickly identified a number of underlying themes from the many predictions. These themes are AM’s transformative role in supply chains, the importance of industry collaboration (both inter and intra), the role that automation and data will play in AM, how AM will drive growth in specific adopter industries and, finally, AM’s place in sustainability strategies. Keep reading for 2022 insights and AM industry predictions from Azul 3D, CECIMO, Desktop Metal, Formlabs, Jabil, Materialise, McKinsey & Company, Nexa3D and Shapeways.
Obviously, a massive topic of the past couple of years has been supply chains and logistics. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated weaknesses in existing global supply chains, but other factors like climate change and the obstruction of the Suez Canal in 2021 have really driven home that global networks need to be rethought and reinforced.
It is no surprise that additive manufacturing, a digitally powered manufacturing technology with the capacity for distributed, localized manufacturing, has been pushed to the forefront of supply chain discussions. In 2022, this trend is expected to not only continue but grow in importance.
“One of many lessons we have learned during the last two years is the importance of reducing international dependencies and increasing supply chains’ resilience,” CECIMO says. “In the European industry strategy, the European Commission (EC) has decided to tackle these issues by mapping dependencies/vulnerabilities, investing in technologies that allow greater flexibility and agility, and promoting new business models that could foster on-site production. The EC indicated AM among those technologies and therefore we can expect more supportive regulations to help market uptake of AM in the future.”
Desktop Metal’s co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop also sees AM as a central technology for rethinking supply chains and, specifically, re-shoring production. “There has been massive growth and consolidation in the additive manufacturing space, which is providing companies the ability to rethink their manufacturing operations and re-shore them back to the U.S. as it becomes more affordable. This will result in an increase in jobs within the U.S., an emphasis on education for the workforce and a decrease in reliance on long supply chains.”
Virtually all AM experts who provided their predictions for 2022 emphasized supply chains as a key topic. Formlabs notes the continued impact of COVID-19 on supply manufacturing and global supply chains, while positioning 3D printing as “one of the most versatile ways for businesses to de-risk their supply chains.” Nexa3D cites the growing need for digitalization and localization for supply chains and sees AM as a solution, with “an emphasis on speed, throughput, cost and sustainability.” Shapeways predicts that “supply chain issues will be alleviated as manufacturers 3D print on demand, reducing logistic requirements and ensuring on-time fulfillment.” Overall, it’s clear that 2022 will see advances for AM in supply chain contexts.
Another trending prediction for the AM industry in 2022 is based on the theme of collaboration. What has become clear is that not only will intra-industry partnerships be key to pushing the industrialization of AM, but also inter-industry collaborations.
“I hope to see much stronger collaboration amongst some of the key key partners along the value chain,” says Joerg Bromberger of McKinsey & Company. “We’ve seen some interesting industry consortiums, like Mobility goes Additive, which are bridging the different capabilities along the value chain, from OEMs, to materials, to printing, to software, and so on. I think the real potential will be unlocked when these consortiums really work together and focus on pilots to build the factory of the future.”
Nexa3D co-founder Avi Reichental, also emphasizes collaboration in AM in 2022, saying: “We will continue to see expanded open innovation and collaboration ecosystems in which everyone achieves more. This will drive faster adoption and technology advancements, benefiting from greater talent and geography diversity as our definition of workplace gets hybridized.”
In his predictions for 2022 additive manufacturing trends, Rush LaSelle, Senior Director of Digital Manufacturing at Jabil, sees AM as becoming increasingly integrated with traditional manufacturing processes. “As digital manufacturing continues to drive 3D printing, the agility being realized within the on-demand production ecosystem will expand rapidly beyond additive technologies to increasingly embrace traditional manufacturing solutions such as injection molding and CNC metal fabrication.”
CECIMO also sees growth potential for AM in its integration into other fields of manufacturing, such as machine tooling and robotics. “Additive manufacturing technologies show great potential in adding flexibility to manufacturing operations and the production of machinery components. Faster adoption of this technology can be expected in the robotic sector. Many robotics companies have used AM for better tooling, but real market growth can be expected as AM can help to customize designs for robotic applications according to customer requests.”
Shapeways echoes this prediction, saying: “Traditional manufacturers will continue to integrate digital processes, taking advantage of on-demand 3D printing benefits.” In other words, not only are collaborations within the AM industry crucial to driving the technology forward, AM must also be embraced by and linked with other manufacturing industries.
Automation and smart technologies
For AM to continue to progress and evolve, there is no question that automation and smart technologies will play an important role. In 2022, these technologies will increasingly underpin additive manufacturing solutions, enabling greater consistency, scalability and efficiency.
In his outlook of 2022 additive manufacturing trends, industry expert Tuan TranPham, Chief Revenue Officer of Azul 3D, sees automation and smart technologies as key drivers of AM and as having the potential to unlock verticals. “More 3D printers will have eyes (vision/in-situ monitoring) and brains (machine learning). And increasingly automated post-processing equipment will enable the most exciting new vertical of 2022—consumer—due to its high volume.”
Reichental also pinpoints automated post-processing as a key focus among 2022 additive manufacturing trends: “With more companies transitioning to mid- and high-volume additive production, we will experience stronger demand for scaled post-processing and full factory automation solutions. These will be anchored by advanced and adaptive machine learning and vision technologies for greater production consistency and yields.” He adds that “complementary exponential technologies— like infinite computing power, sensor abundance, collaborative and economical robots—will also reshape and redefine the scope of AM. Thinking of technologies and circular economy principles from the first will create a stronger full product life cycle.”
Materialise sees smart data as becoming increasingly important for AM’s growth as a digital production solution. “Such a unified, increasingly digital production environment enables greater efficiency, repeatability, scale and control, but it requires a common resource, a common language, and that is data. Moving forward, we believe the role of data in AM will become increasingly important in many ways.” Tim Van den Bogaert, Sr. Market Director at Materialise Software, elaborates: “Smart data holds the key to transform industrial 3D printing production. As manufacturers scale up production, smart data will allow them to reduce scrap rates, predict failures even before they start printing, and meet stringent quality requirements.”
Areas of adoption
It comes as no surprise that there is broad consensus across AM experts that AM adoption will continue to grow in 2022. What is perhaps more interesting is that the medical and dental industries were cited by many as leading AM adoption in the near future.
Coming from a European perspective, CECIMO says, “The medical sector will be the leading AM adopter in 2022 according to the CECIMO market trend survey. With the traditional main adopter (aerospace) still recovering from the impact of COVID-19, the medical industry recorded a net balance of 82%, retaining the highest trend indication score at the sectoral level.” This growth is due to two main factors: the increase in demand for custom prosthetic, orthopedic and dental implants; and AM’s role in compensating for the shortage of medical devices in the first peak of COVID-19 in 2020.
Formlabs’ Chief Business Officer Luke Winston also sees unique potential for AM in healthcare and dental. “As the healthcare industry continues to grapple with challenges such as the labor shortage, the ongoing pandemic and demand for more personalized care, 3D printing is the technology that can both improve and streamline key medical processes. These demands spark the inflection point that will lead to increased adoption of 3D printing. The dental industry will continue to see a surge of innovation in AM while experiencing further competitive growth in killer applications, most notably aligner production.”
Mike Jafar, President and CEO of Desktop Health, sees healthcare as a key adopter in his predictions for 2022 additive manufacturing trends, and beyond. “Personalized medicine will change many aspects of medicine from cost savings to time savings—there won’t be an area that isn’t affected positively by 3D printing. The personalization of 3D printing for healthcare allows for a better fit, less failure and greater speed and cost savings. Additive manufacturing is going to be our only solution for how we manufacture goods in the future, including healthcare. This isn’t 10 years or even five years out. The future is within the next two years. Companies will need to find more sustainable ways to manufacture their goods. 3D printing is bringing healthcare to the cusp of a revolution through pushing the boundaries and making applications that could minimize inventory, minimize supply chain issues, increase patient care and decrease time spent in hospitals.”
Medical isn’t the only space that AM experts are keeping a close eye on, there are also emerging areas to look out for. Among the key 2022 additive manufacturing trends, Bromberger from McKinsey & Company sees broader adoption across more industries and all geographies. “We will see a lot of movements coming from industries that we haven’t seen as much of, like oil and gas, and other heavy asset industries. We also expect more adoption from mobility.”
Shapeways, for its part, sees mass customization and personalization driving momentum in major industries like medical, automotive and aerospace, as well as newer markets like NFTs. “We expect additive manufacturing to gain significant traction in the coming year, especially in digitizing, automating and innovating critical manufacturing workflows,” says Greg Kress, CEO of Shapeways. “As traditional manufacturers increasingly enjoy newfound operational and cost benefits, we forecast an increased cadence of 3D printing adoption, which will drive the development and delivery of more customized and personalized products while alleviating lingering supply chain challenges.”
Last but certainly not least, it seems that the AM industry in 2022 will be heavily influenced by sustainability strategies. Both in the sense that AM itself must strive to achieve greater ecological efficiency and in the sense that as a manufacturing technology it offers sustainability benefits, such as on-demand production, less material consumption, and lighter weight parts.
Nexa3D co-founder Reichental succinctly lays out his prediction for 2022: “AM will play a key role in addressing global warming through light weighting, carbon footprint reduction from localization and lower energy consumption and waste reduction. Transition to more sustainable materials, such as plant-based and reusable materials, will pick up this trend in more processes.”
Desktop Metal sees the overall push for greater sustainability as a factor in driving AM adoption. “New sustainability expectations put forth by state and federal governments will push companies to embrace the 4th industrial revolution,” says Jonah Myerberg, co-founder, CTO and SVP of Global Engineering, Desktop Metal. “The automotive industry has seen the greatest impact of green initiatives—from EV mandates in the state of California, to President Biden’s Build Back Better plans. This will bleed into other industries in 2022 including retail, consumer goods, aerospace, healthcare and more—leading companies to more fully embrace and realize the 4th industrial revolution. In turn, this will influence companies to build more with less, leveraging new processes—for example, additive manufacturing—to provide their businesses with effective and more sustainable solutions.”
CECIMO also positions AM as a strategic solution for European businesses seeking to improve their sustainability practices. “With the ambitious European green transition, many sectors have to rethink their way to consume, operate, and produce. Therefore, AM can play a significant role in many companies’ green transition by offering advantages on two levels: the manufacturing process and the impact of the product. At the process level, these advantages can easily be translated into reducing the use of natural resources and final energy consumption. While at the product level, achieving a lighter weight, enhanced repairability, and improved functionality. Therefore, as the green transition will stimulate the demand for more sustainable products and processes, the AM sector has a unique opportunity to increase its market uptake and help companies achieve higher levels of sustainability.”
Honorable mentions in 2022
While many of the 2022 additive manufacturing trends predictions we received fell into the five aforementioned categories, there were of course outliers that also provide interesting insights into what the next 12 months could look like for the AM industry. Some indicate possible trajectories for the state of the AM industry. LaSelle from Jabil, for instance, anticipates “capital markets and more exotic investment vehicles to continue placing high-value bets that AM and digital manufacturing technologies can and will cross the chasm within the next five years, fueling more innovation and investment in the space.”
TranPham of Azul3D predicts that metal binder jetting will continue to grow, even surpassing metal extrusion (MEX) in terms of revenue in 2022. He also points out that this is likely to be a year where promises from startups are delivered, after a significant period of startup funding. Formlabs’ Winston sees the 2021 trend for mergers and acquisitions (M&As) continuing in 2022. “As use cases for 3D printing become more mainstream, investors will continue to look to 3D printing companies as valuable investment opportunities, while M&A activity will continue. Of course, we will likely begin to see more clearly who is on a path to long-term success (and who is not),” he says.
Ultimately, there seems to be a broad consensus for additive manufacturing trends in 2022, especially when it comes to the industry’s potential and growth. As we’ve seen, supply chains, collaboration, automation, adoption sectors and sustainability are all top of mind when talking to AM experts about the coming year. Finally, we want to personally thank everyone who contributed to this article and provided their insights. Here’s to 2022!
Avtor Tess Boissonneault