Expert Predictions on 3D Printing in 2024: Strategies for Thriving in the Economic Climate

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As 3D printing enters a pivotal year, we’ve consulted top experts in our industry for their predictions on the industry’s trajectory in 2024. While investment appears to be slowing, industrial adoption is gaining momentum. The desktop 3D printing sector is undergoing a significant transformation, with Bambu Lab challenging peers to innovate or face extinction. On the industrial side, some firms running out of money and consolidating. Fortunes vary among startups, with some running low on funds while others thrive on cash reserves or, more importantly, actual revenue. Many software startups are running out of steam, with some losing momentum and others diligently building integrations to secure sustainable revenue.

As for medium and large format printing, the situation is polarized: some firms are struggling, while others boast multi-million-dollar order books. House printing, despite its financial drain, is expanding rapidly. Millions of parts have been printed across various emerging applications. The additive manufacturing (AM) industry is becoming increasingly vital to the U.S. defense sector, with many tens of millions raining down on precious few in the coming year. Collaborations and alliances are forming, industry groups are proliferating, and there are enough clown cars for all the circuses.

In my mind, 2024 is a make-or-break year for the sector, possibly the most challenging in our industry’s 30-plus-year history. This will be the one that decides who the winners are in many areas where crucial new directions will have to be explored. It’s a year that demands tangible revenue, relevance, and solid performance metrics. We’re circling the drain to greatness.

Just some of the applications for 3DTI technology.

Applications and Reality

Through his new firm, 3DTI, designer extraordinaire Janne Kyttanen is making molding technology for packaging, ice cream and shoe soles with 3D printing. Therefore, it is logical that he sees hybrid solutions as the future of the industry, marrying the uniqueness of 3D with tried and tested processes. With regards to design he says, “Everybody will jump on the wagon for making 3D Croc type shoes for the next 12 months,” which I wholeheartedly believe as well and am actually pursuing myself.

“I believe that the best applications are kept under wraps and nobody will even know about them. They are not created from within the industry and, as history repeats itself, the disruption will always come from the outside. The majority of the industry will keep on banging on the old razor and blade model and nothing will change there,” Janne adds.

As an iron law of 3D printing innovation, I find Janne’s insights particularly reassuring, as I have observed this cycle repeatedly over time. While examining trends, it’s important to acknowledge our tendency to replicate past patterns.

One person working on 3D printed shoes—although far from the Croc archetype—is long-time 3D printed footwear innovator Alan Guyan, of Made Plus. About the current state of the AM industry, Guyan said:

“Economic uncertainties have led to a cautious investment climate, creating a purchase gap that’s slowed the sector’s explosive growth. However, this hasn’t diminished the technology’s inherent value and potential. As the industry matures, we’re seeing consolidation of key players and standardization of technologies, leading to a more stable and reliable market. Companies are increasingly focusing on profitable niches where 3D printing outshines traditional manufacturing.”

Building on these insights, Guyan shares his expectations for the industry in 2024:

¨[For the coming year, I expect] real stabilization and quality improvement. The industry will likely prioritize quality and reliability over speed. Despite growth slowdown, sectors like healthcare and aerospace will likely see innovative 3D printing applications. Economic challenges will push companies towards greater efficiency and adaptability. Expect more joint efforts in technology development and market stabilization. New regions may become significant consumers of 3D printing technology with a new focus on emerging markets.¨ 

Alan foresees AI as a game-changer in the domain of 3D printing fostering advancements in facets like intricate design optimization, enhanced output, process augmentation, customization, mechanical verifications, material innovation, supply chain enhancement, and support for staff training. Though I hold a bit of doubt about AI’s immediate influence, I do acknowledge the possibility of witnessing significant transformations in various sectors that are reliant on intensive data analysis and correlations within a span of a year.

Market Perspective: The Arena of Our Play?

Markus Siebold, at the helm of the industrial 3D printed parts platform, Makerverse, opines that the reach of 3D printing would gradually and steadily be extended across multiple industries.

“Additive manufacturing has the necessity to step out of being a niche player and become an integral part of the mainstream assortment of advanced manufacturing technologies. An increasing count of industrial purchasers and engineers would include additive as a crucial technology option for their portfolio of parts.”

Gabe Bentz, CEO of Slant3D, which uses desktop 3D printers to serve customers, sees real mainstream implementations occurring already. 

 “2024 is going to see printing start to really see a tipping point. You will start to see products in common retail stores much more often that are 3D printed. And a new style and category of products will begin to appear in e-commerce. This is all enabled by the scale that printing has finally reached to mass produce final products.”

Personally, I believe that both a slow spread and rapid adoption will continue to happen in 2024, with deeper industrial penetration along with spare parts and low-cost products acting as major drivers. I believe we’ll see much more movement in new applications, but any combination of these will push the 3D printing sector to new heights.

Market Outlook: Macro Pressure & Tough Decisions

We all know that the political situation worldwide has been chaotic while macro economics and things like energy prices have been a roulette game played with Mexican jumping beans. Reconstructive tissue firm Lattice Medical´s founder Julien Payen is looking towards big macro trends for his outlook.

¨The inflationary international context will certainly lead to some excellent opportunities in 2024. Indeed, the difficulties encountered by 3D printing start-ups in refinancing their operations will undoubtedly offer manufacturers opportunities for licensing, business consolidation or, quite simply, mergers and acquisitions, in order to increase the size of the players. The consolidation trend has already begun in 2022 and 2023, and is set to intensify in 2024.¨

John Kawola, CEO of small-scale 3D printing leader Boston Micro Fabrication, is looking at the year as something to be solved through good management and tough decisions:

¨In 2024, expect further adjustments for many companies to reach profitability, either through internal changes or mergers and acquisitions. While often difficult to do, it is not crazy to discontinue product lines or businesses that are not profitable. These types of actions are needed to see the industry through to the other side. New businesses shouldn’t get started unless they have strong contribution margins from the beginning. In hardware and materials, it is difficult to scale into profitability.¨

Overall, I appreciate the new hardness and succinct thought I saw from our industry’s experts. It’s as though everyone got drafted and grew up very quickly. From Kawola´s succinct focus on contribution margin and discontinuation of product lines to Payen’s thoughts on realistic financing, I get a sense of dedication to the aspects of the sector that really matter. It would be beneficial for us all if Siebold and Bentz´s visions of expanding markets were to come true, while Guyan´s hard-nosed advice is important to keep in mind. Kyttanen´s input serves as a reminder that we’re hiding our areas of greatest success. 2024 is going to be scary, exciting and wild.

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