Since 3D systems commercialized stereolithography thirty years ago, 3D printer manufacturers who invented their own proprietary technology predominantly followed the same business strategy– selling their printers to customers.
Until recently, it was the norm for established and rising 3D printing players, both in metal and polymer additive manufacturing, to follow the same path. However, companies with proprietary technology are now seeing an alternative. Instead of telling customers how disruptive their machines can be, they aim to be the disruptors themselves.
Decades of an industry following the same business strategy has exposed the inherent difficulties in selling printers, especially metal printers, to end-users. First, customers will need to find the budget for a printer costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, alongside consumable printing materials that cost hundreds per kilogram.
Then, the customers will need to train employees to operate these printers and how to prepare and finish any 3D-printed parts. if the customer doesn’t have the internal resources for this, they will need to hire skilled labor. Lastly, to make the most of any 3D printer, customers need to understand how to identify applications where 3D printing offers the most value-add and how to design for these opportunities.
Overall, these factors make convincing customers to invest in 3D printing, especially metal additive manufacturing, a difficult decision to make. That is not to say the metal printer install base is not growing, but that this increasingly popular business model fits into a growing industry that IDTechEx forecast will reach several thousand crores by 2032.
A new strategy – in-house production
New entrants have recognized the obstacles posed by the traditional business model of selling metal printers to customers for them to print parts. Rather than selling the printers using their proprietary technology like traditional 3D printer manufacturers, they have chosen a different business strategy where they keep their proprietary printing technology in-house.
Here, the 3D printer is not the main product being sold but rather, finished 3D-printed parts are the main product. This circumvents many of the classic barriers to 3D printing adoption, like high capital expenses and the need for specialized AM knowledge.
Rather than having to convince customers that the customer can print great components if they buy a 3D printer, in-house production companies can simply demonstrate that their proprietary printers can indeed manufacture complex, custom parts.
In this way, in-house production companies using their own proprietary technology are like vertically integrated OEMs. Not only will these companies develop their own printing technology and equipment, but they also often develop their own materials for their proprietary printers. As parts manufacturers delivering finished components to customers, they also complete any post-processing that is needed (i.e. depowdering, debinding, sintering, milling, finishing and more). Some also use their own in-house software for design and simulation. Vertical integration makes it possible to provide a full suite of services to end-users – part manufacturing, consulting and design.
Market forecasts for metal additive manufacturing
IDTechEx’s report on metal additive manufacturing forecasts future revenue, install base, and materials demand for the metal AM market while carefully segmenting the metal AM technology and materials market by 10 process categories and 9 metal material categories.
Additionally, IDTechEx analyses each metal printing technology and provides detailed discussion on the metal AM materials market.