More than half a year into pandemic, how are 3D printer sales looking across the globe?
The question of how to forecast 3D printer sales requires some context — and, thankfully, we have CONTEXT for that. The market intelligence company dives deep into the sales of 3D printers by category and has, unsurprisingly, been hard at work in contextualizing the unusual market conditions 2020 has had to offer.
3D Printer Sales In 2020
Earlier this year, CONTEXT acknowledged that “COVID-19 concerns make 2020 3D printer sales outlook challenging.”
In short, everything about this year is challenging, not just 3D printer sales and the tracking thereof.
How do sales happen when customers can’t go in-person to show rooms, how does support work when technicians can’t travel to installation sites, how do new products get released when major industry events can’t safely be held?
Chris Connery, VP Global Research & Analysis, CONTEXT, shared insights into some of these questions during a roundtable discussion. The long and short of it is that business in 2020 is increasingly digitized — which works for digital manufacturing technologies. That doesn’t mean, of course, that things are all operating anywhere near as-normal even for digital technologies, but remote work is a concept that comes into play anyway with decentralized production capabilities.
“Most serial production will not be taking place remotely. We can’t do large-scale additive manufacturing from home. The modality of metal printers, for example, you can’t do that from home, you need an industrial area,” Connery said in that discussion.
He added, “Now people are more understanding of the idea that what they print on this printer in Singapore is the same as what they print in Brooklyn or Istanbul, getting comfortable with the idea that they don’t just need that one giant manufacturing facility in this part of the world. They’re more comfortable, because they’ve been working remotely, so they’re getting more comfortable producing remotely, distributing files and working collaboratively with the idea that the same thing they manufacture here is what they manufacture there. Industrial machines all over the world are closer to where consumption is, as opposed to being in one central location.”
Global 3D Printing Market Q2 2020
Now that we’re well into the year and have data from another quarter at hand, CONTEXT has shared a look at the varied impact of a pandemic-stricken global market environment.
They note a few key findings, all predicated on a rather unsurprising overall dip. In looking at the recovery to come longer-term, the release is titled with the overall bigger picture: “China and Desktop 3D Printer markets lead the way for longer U-shaped recovery.”
CONTEXT segments 3D printers by pricing category, comprising Industrial price class (≥ $100K), Design price class ($20K–$100K), Professional price class ($2.5K–$20K), and Personal price class (≤ $2.5K — excludes DIY kit printers).
Key figures from the announcement include an overall “+24% second quarter sequential rebound in domestic unit shipments of Industrial-class printers in China” and a “+68% in Personal desktop printer shipments.” Those are the highs, and we need them, as CONTEXT also indicates that hardware revenues in the overall 3D printer market are down by -27% from last year’s figures.
Geographic differences in market performances are starker than perhaps normal, given the differences in various countries’ responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
China, which was hit early by the virus, has largely recovered and is driving a good amount of the sales surges reported this quarter. Western countries, though, were hit a bit later and are in many cases seeing a second wave (or ongoing first wave, depending whom you ask) of impact.
Of the big picture, CONTEXT explains:
“Shipments of high-end and mid-range 3D printers (that is, those in the $100K+ Industrial and $20K–$100K Design price classes) stalled significantly as businesses in the West put capital expenditures on hold and large parts of key industries were still paused. However, demand for Professional price-class printers ($2.5K–$20K) remained strong as people continued to work from home. Hobby-level Personal printers (<$2.5K) were also in demand and shipments of these are no longer hampered by supply-chain limitations now that production in China has resumed. Aggregate revenues from new printer shipments rose marginally from Q1 to Q2 (by +5%) but were down -27% from Q2 2019. Industrial printer sales accounted for 62% of global finished-good revenues in the period.”
Each 3D printer class saw differences in performance, as well as different drivers behind that performance.
The Industrial segment, for example, saw some improvement in shipments because of a bounce back in China — some Chinese companies even saw sales rise above levels in 2019, not just a comparative rise over Q1 of this year. Still, Western markets were down; CONTEXT adds that “Almost all non-Chinese top 20 Industrial printer companies saw sizable year-on-year declines in the number of units shipped – with the notable exception of metal machine producer SLM Solutions.”
In the Design segment, dominated by Western demand, “unit-volume shipments were still down -34% on the previous year.” Professional-class 3D printers saw an interesting uptick, likely driven by ongoing remote working setups. CONTEXT explains here:
“Buyers are looking for ever-more professional products with even more robust feature sets. This has pushed average street prices up and allowed printer revenues to rise nicely even while shipments are only marginally better than a year ago. Weighted average prices for these printers have risen +15% since the beginning of 2019 making this the only price class to see year-on-year revenue growth (of +7%) in Q2 2020.”
Personal 3D printers are perhaps the most directly impacted by the Chinese market, as CONTEXT notes that many of these systems either come from this country or have supply chains that heavily depend on it. Chinese production coming back online in Q2 saw a good amount of demand being able to be met, leading to a +68% jump in quarter-on-quarter shipments.
3D Printer Sales In H2 2020
Now, the tricky bit: forecasting sales for the rest of a difficult year.
Even with recovery in China, many Western projections are hard to pin down for 2020. The pandemic continues to impact business (and, obviously, lives) and with another surge in cases, it’s perhaps impossible to predict when exactly we might see an end to COVID-related disruptions.
Pandemic-response 3D printing remains an important factor, as this technology and the industry around it have proven invaluable to production workflows for testing supplies, PPE, and stop-gap emergency medical devices. 3D printed nasopharyngeal swabs, face shields, ventilator splitters, and other such products aren’t going anywhere soon. Their ongoing manufacture has also been driving an overall increase in interest in additive manufacturing as the technology proves its capability and value in not only pandemic countermeasures but supply chain solutions that could be longer term.
Still, automotive, consumer goods, aerospace, and other markets that are heavy users of 3D printing have in many cases toned down their non-pandemic-related production activities. This lower usage also means fewer 3D printers have been needed.
CONTEXT concludes of its look ahead :
“While recovery in the West is proving to be slower than some had anticipated, vendors have been reporting renewed interest in the technology throughout Q3 – from new sectors as well as known markets. They are hopeful that this interest will turn into Q4 orders: the final quarter typically accounts for 29%+ of each year’s shipments but it is now anticipated that it will account for 36%+ of those in 2020. The challenge to fulfilling these expectations is that key in-person events such as Germany’s FORMNEXT, where many large deals have historically been finalised, remain virtual as the West continues to deal with the pandemic.”