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In my near-decade long tenure as a professional analyst to the 3D printing and additive manufacturing space, there has been near continuous talk about market inflection points—a time when the collective technologies ‘turn the corner’ and break into manufacturing applications at rapid pace, unlocking huge growth and quickly revolutionizing the way things are made. The term is used in conference presentations, corporate marketing campaigns, and by people like me.
In many ways, the talk of inflection points in the market is accurate, when taking a look back through history. Landmark business decisions, new products launches, and new application developments over the years have all been key to leading to the next chain of events, and some of these trends are more significant than others. However, it wouldn’t be intellectually honest to suggest that there has, of yet, been any singular or closely connected multitude of events which have suddenly and radically pushed the additive manufacturing industry into the world of manufacturing with the speed often suggested by talk of ‘inflection points.’
If we look at the economic impact of additive manufacturing today—the revenues associated worldwide with its use—it’s clear that such an inflection point (if one could even exist) has not yet arrived. If it had, additive technologies would represent more than just ~1% of global manufacturing revenues estimated to be at several tens of trillions of dollars.
In hindsight, it has become clearer that there has only been one truly massive inflection point in recent memory, and that has been the expansion into desktop 3D printing. Not because desktop, low-cost systems have had a significant presence in manufacturing, but because their proliferation catalyzed significant attention and interest in the space, which lead to further major investments and business development that ultimately moved additive technologies further into the realm of manufacturing. With desktop printing’s explosion, at first, the emphasis was put on ‘making things’, but just a few short years later it became clear that the real emphasis to grow additive manufacturing needed to be shifted to ‘manufacturing things.’
In 2021, however, things are starting to get interesting in the context of talking about ‘inflection points’ once again. In some ways, the market is starting to feel reminiscent of how it did nearly ten years ago. In particular, there is one emerging direct parallel: interest in 3D printing and additive manufacturing from the financial markets.
Additive manufacturing and 3D printing stocks are back in the spotlight at the beginning of 2021. In the continued coronavirus scenario, which (briefly) thrust additive technologies back into global attention for their ability to quickly respond by manufacturing some medical supplies and provide supply chain flexibility, things continue to change. Are we finally at the long-awaited inflection point which, in another ten years, we will look back on and identify as a cornerstone that quickly led to more penetration into manufacturing applications, and more importantly a resurgence of growth in AM?
(Feature image courtesy of EnvisionTEC.)
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