Global 3D printer shipments were mixed in the first quarter with most unit growth coming from upstarts.
While overall shipments were marginally down in Q1’9, mostly again due to the weakness in the high-volume Personal segment and a seasonal slowdown in Industrial segment, the Professional and Design segments saw good growth.
Momentum from newcomers and new investments seen in the second quarter however, pave the way for a strong year of solid growth.
“The 3D printer market can see seasonal ups and downs, and there are shifts in product trends, but cutting through this noise by examining the market from a trailing-four-quarters perspective, and considering recent record investments, it is very healthy,” notes Chris Connery, vice-president: global research at Context. “Not only are shipments over the last four quarters up in key segments, but the emergence of a new class of metal 3D printers and new investment on many fronts are also good leading indicators that growth is set to accelerate.”
The Industrial class accounted for 60% of global 3D printer revenues in Q1 2019 and, having seen solid +11% shipment growth over the trailing four quarters, represents by far the biggest and most strategic market for 3D printing today.
Companies with a share in it include household names such as HP and GE; long-standing market leaders 3D Systems, Stratasys, EOS and EnvisionTEC; and hot newcomers like Carbon, Desktop Metal and Markforged.
While both metal and polymer printers have seen good growth over the last year, a new crop of lower-price metal printers from the likes of Desktop Metal and Markforged took centre stage again in Q1 with Desktop Metal becoming the biggest shipper of metal 3D printers over the period thanks to this new segment.
On the polymer side, the first half of 2019 has been marked by companies laying the groundwork for future growth rather than by near-term quarterly shipment acceleration. In Q2, Carbon pulled in a record additional $260M in private investment and is now valued at over $2.4B thanks in part to the expectation of enhanced revenue streams as marquee clients, such as adidas and Riddell, ramp up the use of 3D printing for volume production.
While not yet reflected in Q1 printer shipments, HP announced another marquee installation – one that will see significant production by way of a large number of machines shipped in Q2 to SmileDirectClub for the production of clear dental aligners.
There were +11% more Design class printers shipped in Q1 2019 than in the same quarter last year – largely thanks to HP’s emergence in this space and to the growing strength of Markforged – but shipments were down -5% on a trailing-four-quarters basis.
This segment is largely dominated by stalwarts like Stratasys, EnvisionTEC and 3D Systems who, between them, saw double-digit shipment declines aggregated over the last four quarters.
As products can shift between classes (based on changes in weighted average pricing over a period), and with average selling prices in the Industrial class falling as lower-priced metal solutions are made available, the best barometer for the health of the global 3D printer market in recent quarters is to consider combined shipments in the Design and Industrial class categories.
Many companies who once focused on the lowest-end Personal class 3D Printer market, targeting hobbyists and general consumers, now have a more B2B approach.
Their product lines, price points, feature sets, and marketing and sales efforts have therefore shifted toward professional 3D printing. This led to a +30% increase in shipments of printers in this class in Q1 2019, and a +12% increase in shipments over the trailing four quarters.
While long-time players 3D Systems and Stratasys had largely abandoned this segment – allowing vendors like Ultimaker, Formlabs, Raise3D and Markforged to move in, grow and thrive – both these industry leaders have once more turned their attention to it. 3D Systems, in particular, has seen great growth in recent quarters, especially in shipments of their Figure-4 and NextDent products.
While shipments in The Personal segment have been declining for a few quarters, and aggregate shipments are down -15% on a trailing-four-quarters basis, they were down only -6% in Q1 2019 compared to the year before.
This slowing decline is, however, not the only reason for renewed optimism. While many manufacturers have turned their backs on desktop 3D printing, as the much-hyped “printer in every home” market has yet to emerge, this period saw $7.8M pledged toward future personal printer shipments from Snapmaker, making it Kickstarter’s most successful technology project ever showing that there is indeed still strong demand at this lowest end of the market.