It’s 2020, one of the worst years, ever. Business is down everywhere, but is this really true in 3D printing?
The pandemic that has swept the world has put the business of the planet in peril. As people remain in isolation, lockdown or merely under some social restrictions, business models have broken down. The resulting business failures have left individuals unemployed, and their unemployed-ness means they’ll be spending less on everything else, causing a vicious circle of despair.
Everywhere you look, there is bad news as people’s lives are affected — or even terminated in some cases. This is also true in business, where the going assumption is that businesses are taking a big hit, and the weak operations will surely perish.
Some 3D printing companies have indeed faced significant issues. We’ve learned last week that 3D Systems, for example, have decided to reduce their staffing levels by around 20%. That might be due to pandemic effects, but it may also be due to their new CEO taking action regarding long-term challenges.
Their publicly traded counterpart, Stratasys, also incurred a small dent in their profits in the second quarter this year, but they don’t appear to be saying anything about layoffs. However, we’ve anecdotally observed people changing roles, so perhaps there is something happening there behind the scenes.
Have there been other layoffs? It’s hard to say, as many companies are not publicly traded and thus can make this type of maneuver without saying so. We’ve heard through the grapevine that there may have been some layoffs at FAME 3D, the makers of LulzBot, but we can’t confirm that.
Is there nothing but bad news?
On the contrary, there do seem to be many 3D print companies succeeding in the current situation. Some, like Formlabs, Photocentric, Precision ADM and others, have pivoted to add new manufacturing lines to their businesses. That has allowed them to at least maintain their staff and in some cases even expand operations.
Some makers of desktop 3D printers have seen sales increase as clients want those working at home to be able to physically produce models from their 3D designs, where previously they had to share equipment at a central office.
Finally, there is now a recognition among many manufacturers that the goal is now not only to manufacture at the lowest possible cost, but also to provide flexibility, agility in production. It turns out one of the best ways to do so is to add a 3D printing component that can quickly react to changing situations. That alone has driven more activity in the 3D sector.
Stratasys CEO Yoav Zeif said it well:
“3D Printing continues to penetrate further into manufacturing across every relevant business sector. Despite the current macro slowdown due to COVID-19, we remain very optimistic about where our business and our industry is headed. The largest opportunity for us in 3D Printing is in Polymers, and the fastest-growing area is manufacturing.”
While Zeif was referring to Stratasys’ polymer business, he was really describing the current state of 3D printing.
Yes, there have been shake-ups, and there will be more. But in this current state of chaos, new business models are emerging to set the path through to the future, and it will significantly involved 3D printing technology.
Someone told me that while most business sectors are currently going down, 3D printing at least offers the possibility of up or down.
Let’s work for up.