Formnext 2019 was bigger than ever and, as Avi Reichental said during our interview at Xponential Works, “there has never been a better time to get into AM. Until next year”. That has been almost always the case for AM from the beginning and could not be otherwise. AM is a tiny percentage of global manufacturing and – even though most operators don’t want to say it – will eventually become the primary method of manufacturing. What Formnext 2019 means is that AM will grow enormously, exponentially, for the next century and beyond. The downside to this is that the fulfillment of this promise will take decades and even centuries, which means that most of those working in the industry today will not see it. What they will see, however, is the AM industry growing at 35% year on year, as it has been doing for the past three decades, and as it will continue to do.
This growth percentage – which is more or less the same percentage in the growth of exhibitors and visitors at this year’s Formnext (and was similar the year before) – is enough to define an exponential growth trend: it means that the industry doubles in size every two years or so. Incidentally, this rate is similar to Moore’s law rate for processor speed in the electronics industry and, while the two things are not directly related, both are connected to the digital world.
What happened this year at Formnext is that the show is now clearly the primary global event for the AM industry and, as such, it more accurately reflects the overall industry’s growth. This trend is very likely going to continue. In fact, this was the first time that, at Formnext, the AM industry outgrew the tight-knit feeling of a relatively small, enthusiastic, group of professionals. This year’s Formnext was a show for an industry that is approaching puberty (still far from maturity). Although enthusiasm was and will continue to remain high, Formnext will start to become more similar to much larger industrial exhibitions such as those, for example, dedicated to the machine tools industry (IMTS, EMO, Hannover…) or to 2D printing (Drupa) or to design (Salone del Mobile) or Aerospace (Paris and Farnborough) or Medical, Dental and so on.
These shows are still several times larger than Formnext, and that makes sense since these industries have been around for several decades longer. However, additive manufacturing has the potential to become larger than any of these industries which means that Formnext could continue to grow at this rate for a long time. That’s if its organizers at Mesago will be able to manage the show’s exponential growth – which is no easy task. Frankfurt Messe’s strength and experience will help.
AM machines by the thousands
The additive manufacturing industry is growing along two different paths. One is by progressively selling more and more machines, which adopters use to gradually produce more and more parts. The other is by attracting more capital, which investors believe will eventually yield exponential returns. Both of these approaches have potential and limitations.
The first approach is the one taken mainly by traditional market leaders. Companies like EOS, Stratasys, 3D Systems, SLM Solutions and GE Additive (via Concept Laser and Arcam), are in fact selling more and more machines. Even during the hardest times after the 2013 hype bubble, they were still growing between 10% and 20% year on year and they continue to be the ones that sell the most systems. These companies generally belong to a more “analogic” and traditional way of doing business which often clashes with exponential, digital growth. Some, like EOS and GE – even SLM Solutions now that the new management has settled in – are rapidly adapting to the new digital industry however this transition takes time. EOS has clearly stepped up its hardware development, while GE completely overhauled Concept Laser first and now Arcam, in order to enable their systems to fully meet digital manufacturing demands. It is no coincidence that the two brands are now more fully integrated into the overall GE Additive brand. Stratasys and 3D Systems are having a bit of a harder time with this transition. Another company that is now starting to evolve past analogic is ExOne, with new management poised to leverage the company’s experience in order to face increasing competition in the binder jetting segment. However, experience is not always enough – as EnvisionTEC’s struggles show – to compete with aggressive, well-funded and more digitalized newcomers.
Who are the newcomers? A new generation of market leaders led by HP, Desktop Metal and Carbon (also including Formlabs, at least in terms of investments, since the system price point is very different). These are mainly companies originating in the US, growing by attracting investors while working toward industrializing AM as a scalable production solution. These companies are targeting – as the entire industry should – the goal of selling industrial 3D printers – even those priced well above $100,000 – by the tens, hundreds and eventually thousands. This is what it will take to keep the AM industry growing at the current rates for the next decades. It was not a coincidence that the US was this year’s Formnext Partner Country. Interesting progress in terms of system sales and new applications has also been shown by former startups like Poland’s Sinterit, Israel’s XJet, and several others.
The only issue is that today, industrial 3D printers are not sold by the thousands or hundreds but rather by the tens or – in most cases – ones. Most traditional players now have installed bases in the order of 1,000-2,000 systems worldwide at most. These installed bases were built over a period of two decades. It is likely that some of the newcomers will reach these numbers by next year. At this point, becoming more digital and scaling up will become a necessity and not everyone may be able to survive. Although it may be painful for the single firms, this will not matter to the overall AM industry which will continue to grow at high rates. In fact, it is unlikely that any AM company will go under, rather it – along with all its technologies, patents and know-how – may end up being acquired as the industry finally moves toward the much-awaited consolidation. There are huge firms like Xerox, BASF and Ricoh out there that are just waiting for the right moment to bring more AM technologies and capabilities under their umbrella.
AM firms by the hundreds
While consolidation is in the works, that time has not come yet. Which is one of the reasons why the number of Formnext exhibitors also grew this year by 34.8%. So many new products and technologies were presented by so many new firms that it was hard to track them all.
Ceramics and composites are getting closer to real automated production, with some very intense in-segment competition and several new players entering the market as startups and spinoffs. Advanced polymers are finally coming of age, with literally dozens of companies challenging Stratasys’ ULTEM dominance, starting with Roboze (now supported by SABIC and especially Solvay as a key partner) and 3ntr. PEEK may also finally be emerging as an SLS option however that is taking quite a bit longer than imagined. In metals, the opposite trend emerged this year as several metal AM companies were highlighting “less advanced” metals such as copper. In a way, that was also a sign of industrial maturity as the most widely used materials can also be the hardest to print (just think of glass).
In general, consolidation is not happening because the largest multinationals know they would stunt a startup’s drive for innovation by bringing them in-house. It’s much easier to buy them when they prove they are onto something. There are, however, virtuous examples that combine a large company’s strength with a small company’s streamlined creativity. These include the EOS ecosystem (which includes Dye Mansion, Lithoz and several other highly innovative companies), the Siemens Additive Manufacturing Network, Oerlikon‘s ongoing push for collaborations (culminating yearly at the MTC conference) or Rosler’s new AM Solutions brand (which includes other post-processing hardware providers such as DLyte and Post Process), just to name a few. In other cases, such as Kymco’s XYZprinitng or Sinto’s 3D Ceram, large companies establish and support internal startup-like environments to second 3D printing innovation.
Another reason why the number of companies at Formnext will continue to grow is that AM firms specializing in specific verticals will increasingly become an integral part of the AM industry. After dental, which is already very well represented at Formnext, the next segment will be machine tools. Until today AM companies have been a small presence at machine tool shows, however, the rapid growth rate of the AM industry and the slow growth rate of the machine tool industry indicate that more of these companies will identify AM as a key segment. DMG Mori and Trumpf already have. In fact, DMG Mori made its presence very obvious by bringing the gigantic new Lasertec 125 3D Hybrid system to the show floor. Trumpf is already a leading player in the AM industry presenting some of the strongest products for both PBF and DED. Others will follow suit.
After machine tools, it may be aerospace’s turn, especially aerospace engineering service providers demonstrating how their AM solutions can solve issues in other segments such as automotive and oil and gas. Then it may be medical and bioprinting. No bioprinting company has yet exhibited at Formnext but once that trend starts it will warrant some interesting networking. Medical device firms such as Stryker and Lima may find it interesting to be present directly and not just through application cases presented by their AM partners.
Then – or maybe before that, considering the impressive growth rate of most companies involved – it will be time for construction 3D printing companies to join the party. At that point, however, Formnext will need a lot more space than just Hall 11 and 12. In the 3dpbm Index, we list over 5,000 AM companies. They can’t all come to Formnext but many of them can. And will.
Parts by the millions
In order for hundreds of companies to sell machines by the thousands, it will be necessary that AM is used to produce millions of parts. Not just one million which – as Iska Hain Saric from Carbon correctly pointed out – has already been done, but several million (and eventually several tens of millions). This target and potential are probably why former DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman is now Carbon’s CEO. HP has also already presented an application case for over a million parts 3D printed by Smile Direct. As Philip Jung said during the round table with analysts, this case (which led to a very rich IPO for Smile Direct) is the first of many more to come. Hopefully for direct AM applications as well, as materials continue to develop. However, it’s not necessary that AM is used directly for final applications: tools are also end-use parts and a multi-billion-dollar industrial sector.
Another clear sign in this sense was the very large presence of AM-specific, automated post-processing hardware and service providers. There is no automated 3D printing without automated post-processing and that seems to be coming along now. There is still a long way to go, especially in terms of software, workflow and data management. Today parts are still additively produced by the ones in most cases, by the tens and hundreds in a growing number of cases, and only very rarely by the 10,000s or 100,000s, let alone by the millions.
For the record, going from producing 10 parts to producing 1,000,000 parts at a 35% year on year growth rate would take just about 40 years.
*This is not a review of the best products seen at Formnext. To learn and discuss what 3dpbm thought were the most interesting new products seen at the show, please feel free to consult our dedicated AM Focus Formnext section, our AM Formnext Highlights article, or contact 3dpbm directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.