Pandemic inspires businesses to create alternative solutions with 3D printing

Source: press release, 1 April 2021

Annual 3D Printing Sentiment Index illustrates an increase in 3D printing implementation and maturity (illustration: Ultimaker)

The latest research from a global study shows the implementation of 3D printing and sophistication of its use cases increased during 2020. The pandemic inspired innovative engineers around the globe to apply game-changing, unexpected, and inspirational uses for 3D printing to ensure business continuity. The 2021 3D Printing Sentiment Index was announced by Ultimaker, the global leader in professional 3D printing. The research, conducted by the independent research firm Savanta, provides a comprehensive view of the current and future potential for 3D printing in twelve key markets worldwide, while covering the widest range of verticals and professions, including education. The survey was conducted in the United States of America, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

A necessary investment
The new research shows that awareness of 3D printing increased globally to 71%. Awareness in China was the highest (84%), followed by Switzerland (83%), Netherlands (76%) and USA (76%). Overall sentiment was also positive towards 3D printing: 65% of respondents aware of 3D printing believe it will be a widespread technology in their industry in the next 5 years (7% increase). This corresponds with the increased perceived priority: more than a quarter (27%) of respondents claimed 3D printing is an investment priority (7% increase compared to the previous Index) and almost half (49%) believe it will become a business-critical function.

Currently, implementation of 3D printing is highest in the US, UK, Germany and France. Mexico is also experiencing growth; likely attributed to many outsourcing opportunities coming from its North American neighbours. Among its millions of users, plastics and polymers are the most commonly used materials, with PETG (polyethylene terephthalate glycol), PET (polyethylene terephthalate), and PETT (Polyethylene coTrimethylene Terephthalate) gaining ground 31% (4% increase).

Overall, the index reveals the USA, UK, and Germany have the highest expectations for implementing additive manufacturing and capitalising on its opportunities. All other countries rank as follows:

1. United States of America
2. United Kingdom
3. Germany
4. France
5. China
6. Mexico
7. Japan
8. South Korea
9. Switzerland
10. Netherlands
11. Italy
12. Australia 

More country-level details can be found here.

Adversity fosters creativity
While 1-in-3 businesses surveyed are currently using 3D printing, it is only fully embedded in less than 1-in-10 businesses. This provides great opportunities for even more growth in awareness, knowledge and usage. The COVID-19 pandemic likely drove adoption as 3D printing proved to be a reliable alternative for fast innovation and local manufacturing. The adoption maturity therefore increased in 2020 with companies advancing from a small team using the technology (Champion Stage) to a well-implemented application, sometimes even across the business, showing measurable ROI (Competence Centre Stage increased 3% and Fully Embedded Stage increased 2%).

Applications data
Applications data (illustration: Ultimaker)

Furthermore, the use cases of 3D printing have become more advanced as companies sought to continue their business operations amidst ongoing challenges. These use cases helped engineers globally to support disrupted supply chains in innovative ways. As a result, 55% of businesses using 3D printing produce end-use parts and almost three quarters use it to produce tools, optimise workshop organisation and streamline logistics. Prototyping was down 8% but remains the most common use of 3D printing.

“Manufacturers across the globe had to quickly adjust when the pandemic shifted their supply chains. From prototyping innovations to printing their own tools to keep machines going, those with an open mind adapted most effectively. It really shows the great way in which innovators globally work hard to ensure continuation of business, production and everyday life, despite or even because of external challenges. The possibilities of 3D printing are truly endless, so it is exciting to see the amazing solutions designers and engineers come up with. We’re very proud that Ultimaker helps businesses ensure continuation, despite adversities, by embracing 3D printing,” says Jürgen von Hollen, CEO at Ultimaker.

Despite 3D printing driving positive outcomes during the pandemic, there remain obstacles that are slowing widespread implementation. Although these barriers were slightly lower in the 2020 survey, operational capabilities (67%), employee knowledge (65%), and building a sound business case (40%) still limit companies in unlocking opportunities. The operational capabilities that are the biggest cause of concern for companies are faster printing, integration with existing tools and software (ecosystem) and reliability/accuracy of the print.

About the research
The study was conducted online by Savanta in December 2020. The sample covered 2.525 professionals of which 1,692 professionals were aware of the technology from twelve countries: United States, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia and completed the survey. Professionals came from all levels of business, as well as a wide variety of industries, including but not limited to healthcare, manufacturing, architecture and automotive.