In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the worldwide manufacturing community, as transport and workplace restrictions frustrated supply chains across the planet. However, it was not all doom and gloom. Leading companies wasted no time in showing their entrepreneurship by finding alternatives to ensure business continuity. When the going gets tough the tough get creative – and many turned to 3D printing as a game-changer in adverse times. This is reflected in the results of our 2021 3D Printing Sentiment Index.
It is the second time that Ultimaker published the 3D Printing Sentiment Index after its launch in 2019. As businesses across the world are increasingly using 3D printing for an ever-growing list of applications, we aim to track and contextualise its evolving global potential. The result is the 3D Printing Sentiment Index.
Conducted by international research firm Savanta in late 2020, the Index is a measure of market awareness and adoption as well as sentiment towards the potential impact of 3D printing technology. As in 2019, the survey was conducted in 12 key nations where 3D printing has shown much promise – the United States of America, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. The global study covers the widest range of verticals and professions.
Pandemic puts 3D printing firmly in the picture
Following up on the survey in late 2020 proved to be incredibly telling. Businesses were still operating in the middle of a pandemic, which caused an avalanche of exceptional, often market-changing developments.
The Index therefore shows that businesses were increasingly exploring 3D printing technology and expanding and refining existing use cases. Not just awareness of 3D printing’s endless possibilities increased – awareness and positive sentiment often tipped over in fresh investments and surprising, innovative implementations, as adversity spawned new creativity. Constrained by collapsing supply chains, engineers around the globe helped businesses to continue running by constant innovation and problem-solving through 3D printing adoption.
You can read stories of some of the people who kept businesses and healthcare going during the pandemic in our 2020 Ultimaker Innovators list.
Dr. Robert Pugliese and his team at Thomas Jefferson University's Health Design Lab used their 3D printers to help produce medical devices and PPE in 2020
Awareness, sentiment, and priority are up
As a positive baseline, global awareness of 3D printing increased to 71%, with China taking the highest score (93%), followed by Mexico (81%), Switzerland (77%) and Italy (75%). Sentiment followed hot on the heels of awareness, with 65% of respondents believing that 3D printing will be a widespread technology in their industry in the next five years – an increase by 7%. In fact, more than a quarter of respondents put 3D printing right up there as an investment priority – another 7% increase compared to the previous Index. Almost half (49%) believe the technology will become a business-critical function.
Today, the US, UK, Germany and France are the key change-makers considering the implementation of 3D printing, but the study shows that Mexico is growing fast, likely building on outsourcing opportunities coming from their northern neighbours. The four nations mentioned also lead the way when it comes to capitalising on market opportunities. All 12 nations rank as follows:
Technology that goes with an open mind
Sentiments are the start of a domino effect
This was something I said when we introduced the first 3D Printing Sentiment Index in 2019. These words very much hold true two years later.
Through 2020, we have seen adoption maturity increase, as many companies advanced from a small team using the technology to a well-implemented application.
Room for improvement
While global awareness and the sophistication of use mushroomed through the pandemic, there is still room for growth for 3D printing as a core production technology. More than one in three businesses has now adopted the technology in some way, but just one in ten has fully embedded it in their operations.
Meanwhile, barriers to widespread implementation were lower in 2020, but still survive. Many businesses list operational capabilities (67%), employee knowledge (65%) and a sound business case (40%) as obstacles to unlocking 3D printing opportunities.
What’s more, an increasing number of these applications are starting to show a measurable return on investment. No less than 55% now apply 3D printing to 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. This shows that the pandemic has pushed businesses to adapt and think out of the box – proving that 3D printing is the technology par excellence that goes with an open mind. Especially when it’s needed the most.
For more insights from this year's findings, explore the full 3D Printing Sentiment Index results, or use the link below to download a free infographic with the key data all in one place.