What’s New about 3D printing in 2021?
The year 2021 began with the burden of a bad 2020, and it was a foreshadowing of many positive things to come. Most of what we've seen in the last six months has been predicted by experts. Nonetheless, there is a lot to look forward to for the rest of the year. In 2021, we bring you what's new in 3D printing.
Partnerships, Collaborations, Mergers & Acquisitions
With the industry experiencing sluggish growth in 2020, it was critical that the companies look to consolidate their prowess. Many businesses are looking to partner with and collaborate with other businesses in order to leverage each other's capabilities rather than spending time developing them in-house. Some larger corporations are using the downturn to merge and acquire smaller or niche brands.
This year has seen a slew of such collaborations, mergers, and acquisitions. To begin, Protolabs, the world's leading digital manufacturing company, acquired 3D Hubs (now rebranded as Hubs), a leading online manufacturing platform with approximately 240 premium manufacturing partners, earlier this year.
Stratasys, the Israeli 3D printing behemoth, also acquired RP Support Ltd. (RPS), a provider of industrial SLA 3D printers and solutions. Stratasys now intends to use its brand to help RPS expand its Neo Line of SLA 3D printers.
Nano Dimension, a provider of additive manufacturing electronics solutions, acquired NanoFabrica Ltd., a technology leader in micromechanics 3D printing.
CELLINK, the world's leading bioconvergence company, also acquired two companies, Visikol and NanoScribe.
Aside from that, SLM Solutions announced a collaboration with Solukon, Nanoform collaborated with Aprecia to advance 3D printed nanomedicines, Williams Racing announced a collaboration with Nexa3D, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, a WarnerMedia Company, collaborated with Toybox to allow fans to 3D print toys at home, and many more.
Finally, 3D Systems made one of the most significant announcements by selling their on-demand manufacturing business to Trilantic North America, a leading, growth-focused middle-market private equity firm, in order to focus their efforts on the core business.
Initial Public Offering (IPO)
Following on from the previous year, experts predicted that 2021 would be the year of IPOs in the 3D printing industry, and they were not wrong. Almost all of the companies have chosen the Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) structure. So far, seven announcements have been made, with more expected to follow. Velo3D, Shapeways, Markforged, Rocket Lab, Rokit Healthcare, Massivit3D, and MeaTech are all in the process of going public.
Velo3D plans to go public through a merger with a blank check company backed by tennis star Serena Williams. The deal with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Jaws Spitfire Acquisition Corporation will lead to a $1.6 billion valuation.
Markforged agreed to go public through a merger with a blank-check company ‘One’ started by Eventbrite Inc., co-founder Kevin Hartz. A statement released by both companies values the combined equity at $2.1 billion.
Shapeways, Inc., one of the leading global digital manufacturing platforms driven by proprietary software, will be going public with Galileo Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). The companies have entered into a merger agreement wherein Shapeways will be acquired by Galileo and the combined entity will be named Shapeways Holdings, Inc.
Rocket Lab, is also going public via a merger with blank-check firm Vector Acquisition Corporation. The new organization, which will trade under the Nasdaq symbol RKLB, is valued at $4.1 billion.
Rokit Healthcare, a leading bioprinter manufacturer from South Korea, made its Initial Public Offering (IPO) announcement in March this year. By July 2021, it will be listed on Korean Stock Exchange issuing 12 million shares.
Massivit3D, the large format 3D printing company is also planning an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Industry experts suggest that the company will try to raise $50 million at a company value of $200 million, before money.
Emphasis on 3D Printing Education
According to numerous international surveys and reports, one of the most significant barriers to the growth and spread of 3D printing technology is a lack of skilled labor. There is a severe shortage of technology-educated professionals, which is impeding the growth of most 3D printing companies because talented people from other industries do not easily translate to this sector.
A lack of formal education is easily identified as the source of the problem. However, the solution has not yet been fully realized. The year 2020 came as a rude awakening to the world, but it also provided an opportunity for 3D printing technology to shine and demonstrate its true potential. The pandemic acted as a catalyst to raise awareness about the technology, and as a result, there was renewed interest in it.
Global corporations began hosting webinars for students and potential end users. Many organizations have also organized online courses for users of all types. The concept was straightforward: educate upcoming students, engineers, and end-users about 3D printing technology.
It was clear that the year 2021 would place an even greater emphasis on 3D printing education. Many universities around the world are finally recognizing this reality and offering formal educational degrees/courses in additive manufacturing. This is all in preparation for the future, but what about today's lot?
Through informative podcasts, webinars, courses, and virtual meetups, organisations are also conducting courses for professionals to upgrade their knowledge and stay up to date on the latest in the industry. The importance of 3D printing education is greater than ever.
The year 2020 also heralded the acceptance of a new reality – the reality of a virtual presence. All of the companies were required to work from home, which presented new challenges. Initially, teams struggled to function efficiently and cohesively, but as time passed, businesses learned to use this challenge to their advantage.
Companies are far more virtual this year, attempting to connect with global companies, end-users, and students via webinars, virtual meet-ups, and educational courses. This type of global connection was lacking prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic forced it on everyone, allowing businesses to reach out to an audience they had never reached before.
Experts from around the world agree that, while the pandemic has been devastating to many businesses, it has also served as a catalyst for raising awareness about 3D printing technology. As 3D printing companies contributed to the fight against the pandemic with various products, mainstream media covered these stories as well. These stories reached people who had never heard of 3D printing before, and as a result, awareness spread far and wide. According to experts, the pandemic compelled end-users to recognize the capabilities and potential of 3D printing technology. As a result, they are much more open and willing to hear about the benefits 3D printing can provide for them, their organization, and overall revenue.
3D printing companies say that they are experiencing an increase in the adoption of 3D printing technology. This phenomenon is observed at a faster rate in growing/emerging markets like India, etc.
Thus the 2021 trend is seen in an increased level of adoption of the 3D printing technology.
Penetration of Core Applications
One of the key trends we see in 2021 is the increased penetration of 3D printing technology in a variety of core application areas. This is due not only to the pandemic, as previously stated, but also to a large number of strong and proven case studies conducted by large multinational corporations. Larger corporations in aerospace, aviation, automotive, healthcare, and other industries have paved the way for competitors and other players to invest in technology. This has resulted in a greater penetration of the technology. Let us look at which industries are experiencing such a trend.
Aerospace is one of the core applications are of 3D printing technology. It benefits immensely from the technology and rightly so. By applying topology optimization principles the weight of the system can be reduced and this directly impacts the fuel consumption and eventually the cost of the flight.
Aerospace is seeing a deeper penetration as 3D printing is becoming a mainstream process in this sector. Industry leaders like NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, ISRO, etc. are already using 3D printing on a large scale. This has prompted a lot of their competitors to invest in 3D printing. The chain reaction has also reached Startups that are trying to use 3D printing as the base technology to 3D print rockets and engine parts for space flights.
The distinction between aerospace and aviation is in the destination. While aerospace flights are into outer earth orbits, the destination of aviation flights is on planet earth. Companies like Emirates and Airbus are using 3D printing technology for their maintenance and repair activities. They are also using it widely in their prototyping and new product development. Though there are not many Startups in this sector companies working on Drones are using the 3D printing technology to a large extent to develop lightweight drones and drone parts. As a result of this, this core sector s also experiencing an increased adoption.
Automotive also has been one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing. Especially for one-off parts, spare parts, vintage car parts, and a lot for prototyping and new product development. Companies like BMW and Volkswagen have been pioneers in using 3D printing for automotive applications. Over the last 2 decades, they have learned, excelled, optimized, and now set processes to use the technology. They have identified the revenue structures and which parts are viable for 3Dprinting while which are not. This means that companies like Volkswagen are now moving into the mass-manufacturing stage where they will be using 3D printing for vehicle production. Volkswagen recently announced that it is accelerating its use of binder jetting technology in its vehicle production process. This only means that the technology is seeing mainstream activity.
A closely connected application to automotive is motorsports. It is important to segregate the two because though the aim of both applications is similar, the performance expectation is fairly different. Motorsports is a demanding application. It demands high performance from 3D printed parts. These parts are subjected to extreme temperature and pressure conditions and so they must be of high quality and be able to withstand sudden stresses.
Since motorsports also attract a long list of sponsors and funding and it is a game, it is also a great platform for promotion for the 3D printing technology. Almost all teams now are using 3D printing technology to augment their sports vehicles to gain that extra advantage on the race track. The better the 3D printed part, the bigger the advantage and the better the chances of winning the race. This will eventually be a great promotion for the technology.
Healthcare has adopted 3D printing since the earliest days of technology. The early 1990s was the time when researchers started exploring the benefits of the technology for medical and healthcare applications.
Today due to the pandemic, companies leveraged 3D printing technology to come up with innovative solutions. Especially developing the nasal swabs needed to collect Covid testing samples.
But this is just a stepping stone in the further development of the technology for healthcare use. Researchers are exploring the use of 3D printing for bioprinting, cancer treatment, skin printing, implants, organ printing, etc. All these are applications with huge potential and impact on the world we live in.
This year, we are seeing a renewed interest in the medical and healthcare applications of 3D printing, and the trend is expected to keep on growing.
The new trends observed are not only seen in the applications and adoption but also in the new hardware, software, and materials. Companies are exploring new avenues to target and new problems to solve. This is enabling rapid advancements in software applications, materials, and also 3D printers.
2021 has seen the launch and adoption of several new software solutions. Ultimaker has launched a stream of software solutions under Ultimaker Essentials that includes Cura, Digital Factory, and Ultimaker MarketPlace to download plugins. MES software applications are now a base requirement for service providers to manage their printing workflows. These are now highly sought after.
Generative design software solutions are also finding greater demand in the aerospace, motorsports, and healthcare market.
A lot of new software are also finding greater use of machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve their performance and reliability.
The trends in 2021 suggest widening the materials library. The focus is on incorporating new materials or easing the printing experience through bettering the existing materials. New alternatives are developed thus enabling customers a larger material range to choose from.
All types of materials, filaments, resins, and metals are researched upon and expanded to add high-performance materials.
In 2021, we are seeing new types of 3D printers capable of printing electronics, concrete, carbon fiber, and even at nanoscale. Electronics 3D printing is an emerging field and with limited players, this space is heating up. We see a strong requirement in the electronics market for such 3D printers.
Similar is the case of construction 3D printers. The market shows huge potential and o existing companies are leveraging their capabilities to 3D print concrete structures, offices, homes, and infrastructure.
Carbon fiber 3D printers have always been an attractive prospect for many industries and with the technology getting better each year, we are seeing a large requirement for such carbon fiber 3D printers.
Nanoscale 3D printers are also witnessing a growing trend. These 3D printers can print at lateral feature sizes down to 160 nm. This is truly remarkable and is perfectly suited for the electronics market.