Industrial 3D Printer-Market, HP Inc., See Gains in Third Quarter

London-based market-research firm CONTEXT reports that shipments of industrial 3D printers priced at $100,000 and up were up by 8 percent in the third quarter of 2019 compared to third-quarter 2018.

This key sector – which accounted for almost 70 percent of all 3D-printer revenues for the period – saw even more impressive shipment growth of 12 percent on a trailing twelve month (TTM) basis. The increase came as a surprise, according to CONTEXT, given the headwinds many vendors reported in the second half of the year: reduced demand from the struggling automotive sector, sluggish European economies, and a generally weak global industrial manufacturing market all affected the bottom line of many companies in the third quarter.

In the industrial polymer 3D-printer market, HP Inc. (now number-two in industrial 3D-printer global shipments) saw “excellent growth,” shipping 347  percent more printers in third-quarter 2019 than in third-quarter 2018 as it continued to roll out its more affordable color-capable units. HP also began to ship the newest iteration of its most advanced, highest-end, production-focused models in volume. (Other leaders in the industrial 3D-printer market are Stratasys and Proto Labs.) The Chinese domestic market also grew, mostly thanks to leading Chinese vendor Union Tech.

While industrial metal printers made up just 32 percent of unit shipments in the class over this period, they accounted for just over 51 percent of revenues. According to CONTEXT, metal 3D printing is one of the fastest-growing additive manufacturing segments and has seen shipments grow at an average rate of 30 percent 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, 19-percent fewer metal powder bed fusion 3D printers shipped than in the same quarter a year ago, with market leaders EOS and GE Additive both seeing weaker shipments not only for the quarter but for the trailing 12-months as well.

Even so, aggregated shipments of metal 3D printers grew by 11 percent as a different technology began to take center stage, driven by Desktop Metal and Markforged. The new crop of material extrusion metal 3D Printers – which saw year-over-year shipment increases of 43 percent – addresses new markets for prototyping and entry-level metal printing. Since many of these markets are outside the aerospace, automotive, and medical sectors that currently use powder bed fusion machines, the growth in shipments of extrusion models was not related to the decline in those of the other type of machine.

Chart 1: Global industrial price-class 3D printer shipments and growth by material

There was good growth in North America and China during third-quarter 2019, in which year-over-year increases in industrial 3D-printer shipments were up 22 percent and 36 percent respectively, while the global number-two market, Western Europe, saw shipments fall by 28 percent . According to CONTEXT, 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 also because of less-than-favourable global trade conditions that make it difficult for emerging technologies like 3D printing to flourish. These trends held true in the third quarter when Chinese vendors flourished in domestic China while U.S. and European vendors again saw most of their business come from the West.

Other 3D-Printer Classes

Of the three other major price classes for finished-good printers – Personal, Professional and Design – shipments of printers in the Professional class were most notable. Printer shipments in the third quarter in the Design segment was 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 an excellent 21 percent versus  the previous year, and a solid 17 percent  on a TTM 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 the quarter was the performance of Formlabs which finally began shipping new models in volume against strong pent-up demand and surged to the top of the market in this class as the availability of their new products was bolstered by glowing reviews.

Chart 2: Global 3D printer unit shipments and TTM growth by price class (note two scales)

CONTEXT notes that many forecasts for fourth-quarter 2019 and on into 2020 turned a bit cautious toward the end of 2019, due, in part, to weaker demand from key geographies, to softening orders from key vertical markets, and to uncertainties associated with global trade. The period was also marked by significant managerial changes among leading companies, also contributing to near-term uncertainty.

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