Shipments of Personal/Desktop 3D printers saw their first ever year-on-year drop in Q1 2018 with 3% fewer printers shipping globally than in Q1 2017.
Conversely, the Industrial/Professional segment saw its third consecutive quarter of year-on-year growth with printer shipments up +14%.
While low-priced Personal/Desktop 3D printers are of interest to many – they account for 81%+ of all global printer revenues – the Industrial/Professional segment is the most closely monitored and the one with the strongest links to overall market health.
When grouped by class and segmented strictly by selling price, the biggest weakness can be seen in the Professional 3D printer class, shipments of which were down -21% year-on-year after 112% growth in 2017.
In recent years, many 3D-printing stalwarts have largely abandoned this Professional class, but it gained traction in 2017. This is due to start-ups, who had previously focused mostly on Personal 3D printing for consumers, hobbyists and education, beginning to recognize the growing demand in this more price-inelastic segment.
“This near-term downturn is expected to be an anomaly rather than a trend: vendors like 3D Systems are again focusing on this class of printers,” notes Chris Connery, vice-president: global analysis at Context. “Additionally, more and more end markets are seeing this as a separate category.”
The Personal class of 3D printers, in which shipments were mostly flat year-on-year, is a bit more of a concern for the industry. Sub-$2 500 printers have seen great growth in recent years and sell well in education, hobbyist and even professional markets – unfettered growth in the sales of these low-priced printers has continued in spite of the lack of a true “consumer” market base.
In recent years, crowdsourcing platforms (e.g. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc) have been a barometer for demand but, over the last few quarters, they have offered few innovations in Personal 3D-printer products results in fewer-and-fewer successful campaigns.
While the unit volumes associated with the Personal (and even Professional and Design) class of printers continue to catch the interest of many casual observers, the market is still very much driven by the Industrial class which accounted for 69% of global printer revenues in Q1 2018.
Printers in this class are most poised for market disruption in that they are able to move the market from its prototyping roots to one also focused on serial production, and shipments were up a healthy +20% year-on-year. This class is largely segmented into polymers/plastics printers and metals printers. Market leaders in Industrial polymer 3D printer shipments in Q1 2018 included Stratasys, Union Tech, HP, Carbon and 3D Systems with impressive growth seen from HP, Carbon and 3D Systems. Leaders in unit shipments for metals 3D printers for the period included EOS, GE Additive, SLM Solutions, 3D Systems and Renishaw.