Reading, PA – April 8: Ellen Albright, the Director of Workforce and Talent Development at the GRCA … [+] (Greater Reading Chamber Alliance) hands out bags with 3D printed face shields at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, PA Wednesday morning April 8, 2020 where donated 3D printed face shields for medical workers that were printed by businesses around Berks County, where being distributed to healthcare workers as extra PPE Personal Protective Equipment, during the coronavirus / COVID-19 crises. The effort was organized by the Berks PPE Resource Network. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Most annual research reports gather dust or, worse, yawns. Usually the yawn is started by a report filled with tables, charts, and numbers that give you data alone, but the best ones weave a story that catches your attention, and perhaps, your imagination. More so, with important technologies such as 3D printing, the must-read reports tell you who is making a difference. The Wohlers Report 2020 is a mix of those best traits. 

In its 25th year, this year’s report states the 2019 additive manufacturing (AM) industry (also known as 3D Printing), consisting of all AM products and services worldwide, grew 21.2 percent to $11.867 billion. 2019 represented a little bit slower growth when compared to 2018, but based on how 2020 is going so far with Covid-19 — that may put a big damper on things. I asked Terry Wohlers for some input on the future of the industry, post-COVID:

“The future of AM post-COVID? Hmm, …. good question. The industry will return, but slowly. It will be on pace with new product development and manufacturing. The virus has brought a lot of attention to AM from the countless efforts around the production of face shields, nasal swabs, and ventilator parts. However, these efforts have not come close to making up for the loss in revenues from product sales and AM services,” he said.

The report is careful to explain that worldwide estimates exclude money spent on AM development from the likes of major companies such as Airbus, Adidas, Ford, Toyota, and hundreds of other companies large and small. It also excludes more than 1 billion in venture capital and other private investment in AM-related companies. So the estimate of worldwide revenues includes purchase of industrial systems and desktop 3D printers.

But again, more than just the numbers, the report includes many of the details from different industries and what key players in each are doing, including the research and development taking place within academic circles at universities and colleges around the world. Here is just a bit of what the report shares: 

  • A global look at the activities of 139 academic and research institutes (curated and written by Dr. Ismail Fidan from Tennessee Tech University and mentioned in my post linked below)
  • Maturing and emerging applications of AM for series production
  • Review of AM in the dental industry (a big growth segment)
  • Commentary on 77 early-stage investments valued at $1.1 billion
  • Compilation of 72 industry partnerships from the past 12 months
  • Expert reports from 35 countries

In my post last year on Wohlers Report 2019, the report projected that by 2024 AM industry revenues would hit $35.6 billion. That same report showed desktop 3D printing systems (those that sell for under $5,000) saw a significant decline in annual growth as well as several complete shutdowns. 

This year, thanks to COVID19, I would guess (hope?) that revenues are likely to increase despite the economic shutdowns because many makerspaces and small manufacturers dialed up desktop 3D printer purchases to keep up with personal protective equipment (PPE) production. Take a look at this post for more details: Calling All Makers With 3D Printers: Join Critical Mission To Make Face Masks And Shields For 2020 Healthcare Workers. However, my optimistic opinion is not backed up by anything I read in the Wohlers Report or comments made to me by Terry Wohlers. 

Finally, the future of additive manufacturing is, like many industries, not out of the proverbial Coronavirus woods. There is a bright future, partly due to the many recent initiatives that have shone a light on what 3D printing can do. Some of those projects are still working around the clock to provide front line workers with protective gear. There is also a new spark of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking taking place at the National Institutes of Health and other government agencies. So, yes, the industry has taken a hit, like much of the economy and manufacturing in particular, but there is hope and there is opportunity thanks to people who know how to create and make. 

The original source of that block quote above comes from a post I did for the SME RAPID+TCT blog on the Future of Additive Manufacturing

Disclosure: I received a media copy of the Wohlers Report to review.