EditorialsTrends 2021

Which key 2021 trends are in store for the additive manufacturing industry?

It's (always) time look ahead

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The year 2020 is getting to a close (’bout time) and it’s time to start looking at what our 2021 trends analysis holds for the additive manufacturing industry, with 3dpbm’s December AM Focus 2021 Trends. We need to be realistic: even as vaccines arrive and the COVID pandemic eases, for many companies next year may turn out to be even more economically challenging than the one that just ended.

At this time last year, we were closing up a fantastic year for AM and looking forward to a new year of significant growth, driven by aerospace, automotive and major investments from large multinational groups entering the market. We had predicted that automation and automated workflows would be one of the most relevant trends and that AM market communication would become increasingly digital. With the exception of aerospace (but only to a certain extent), we were correct on all these points.

What does this show? Simply that—as many have noted—the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already strongly underway: automation, digitization, while also introducing more urgency toward some other ones—such as supply chain resiliency, on-demand short batch production, re-localization—that were also in the works.

In all of these cases, AM stands out as an ideal solution, which is one of the reasons why the AM industry as a whole did not suffer nearly as much as other industries. Some AM pure players, such as voxeljet and SLM Solutions, even reached some important growth targets. Wherever AM divisions or AM firms struggled and saw drastic cuts it was mostly as a result of reduced investments by mother companies who were suffering from demand reductions in their traditional core business. And those who did make cuts in the AM-related departments showed a lack of vision.

For these reasons, while we do expect 2021 to be a very difficult year on many levels in terms of global economic growth, we are quite bullish in our expectations for AM-market-specific growth trends. We see growth in terms of investments driven by many new and fringe areas of manufacturing: the space industry—a major AM adopter—is reaching new heights; EVs are finally taking off and are looking at AM for many of their parts, from powertrains to all types of enclosures. Even the construction industry—as we just reported in our latest AM Focus eBook—is adopting AM at an ever-accelerating rate.

Even aerospace, one of the industries that were hardest hit by the pandemic’s effects, often continued to invest in AM as a means to streamline production and reduce costs. Other industries, such as Oil & Gas, and the energy sector in general, continue to invest in AM to address the other major trend that emerged in 2020 (and that we had marginally predicted, by deciding to dedicate an AM Focus and eBook to it in our 2020 editorial calendar): sustainability. Even while dealing with the immediate challenges presented by the pandemic, many AM companies continued to fine-tune their processes, materials and applications for more sustainable production. Needless to say, this trend will continue to grow in the next year.

Finally, although we do hope this will not result in anything more than “preparedness”, the increasing global instability has been driving growing investments in the Defense sector. This area is also a major adopter of AM and weapons will always be part of the world’s industrial mix.

For us at 3dpbm, 2020 marked a major step in our growth. We have experienced exponential growth in terms of traffic and industry-awareness and we successfully launched our AM Focus eBook series. Looking at the future we launched 3dpbm Research, our market research area that focuses on leveraging our network of over 5,500 verified AM companies to build the largest databases of industry data and to produce the most accurate assessments and forecasts of AM demand and revenue opportunities. We continue to be extremely bullish for the future of AM and the fact that several AM-related stocks are near, at, or way above their 3-year high further reinforces this confidence.

*In light of the fact that effective COVID vaccines are now confirmed to be available, we now expect distribution to require at least six to eight months to reach a level such that international traveling can resume to near-normal levels. We thus expect several AM industry shows to return in their physical form during 2021. In particular, Formnext 2021, which takes place in November, may be able to perfectly capitalize on a new-normal global situation.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based 3dpbm. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites 3D Printing Media Network and Replicatore, as well as 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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