After the colossal failure of almost all predictions for 2020 it may seem foolish to suggest trends for 2021. On the other hand, predictions can be wrong in any year, regarding of pandemics and other unforeseen calamities. Nevertheless, some of the AM predictions for 2020 were the ones that actually materialized, at least to some extent. Let’s hope 2021 will not be as volatile as 2020 – we’ll take boring and mundane for a year after that one. So, let’s put the thinking caps on and give it a try.
Turn-Key will Gain Popularity
The main trend we’ve seen start to develop in recent months and we think will gain momentum is the move to turn key services and solutions. The COVID19 pandemic shone a light on AM and many companies realized they can benefit from putting in place a digital supply chain with AM, whether continuously or just in times of emergency or failure. However, not all companies have the required in house expertise for such a move. They can gather many consultants and manage the process themselves or they can choose to utilize one of quite a few turn key services offered. These services can look over a catalog of parts, select the ones appropriate for AM, convert the chosen part to be 3D printable and then manage a (hopefully secured) digital inventory and store front plus fulfillment for the company. This is an end to end solution and is increasing in popularity. In January, we will have a dedicated post to this trend and some related initiatives (subscribe on the right to our weekly newsletter so as not to miss it). Meanwhile, if you want to see an example, check out our colleagues at Replique – they have recently opened such a storefront with several Miele appliance accessories for the German market.
Metal will Rebound (Vaccine Willing)
The dip in the metal AM market in 2020 is very much influenced (but not only) by the pandemic and by the limitations on physically going to additive manufacturing facilities. Thankfully, vaccines are starting to be given in the US, EU, and in other countries. Israel (population of 8.8mm people) is the fastest vaccinator per capita: this week the pace is 100k vaccinated people per day (more than 1% of the total population) – by next week this pace is expected to double. It’s true that in 3 weeks the booster shots will start, which will slow down the initial shot pace but still at this pace the entire at risk population can get the first shot in 1 month. This negative influence will hopefully abate by 2Q21 to a large extent. However, this segment is also strongly affected by the sharp drop in the aviation industry – and this one may take longer to recoup. Still, all in all, we expect the metal AM sector to rebound and continue to grow in applications and usages.
Importance of Software will Continue to Grow
Another trend, boosted by the conditions created due to the pandemic, is the growing importance of software in the AM ecosystem. It makes sense: software, and especially cloud SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions are the glue for and automatic (or remote) control of many processes including the various AM processes. To their credit, several 3D printer manufacturers realized this early and have been rolling out interesting software offerings that will likely continue to expand in the coming years. Desktop Metal, for example, was an early adopter of this approach and this has probably affected their market cap as it may affect other public companies’ stock performance. However, more recently almost all large 3D printer manufacturers have expanded or announced plans to expand their software offering. Stratasys‘ acquisition and the remarks of their CEO, Yoav Zeif, on the occasion are good examples. We believe software will continue to grow in importance and most of it will move to the cloud. Some vendors like HP and to some extent GE are already making steps in that direction and this will only accelerate. A software strategy is a must – it affects everything even public market perception. For companies with a software business, like Materialise, an acceleration of SaaS and subscription or per print based business models is expected. In this context we must mention, again, the importance of APIs and playing well with others – this is not a new trend but rather an ongoing imperative in the highly fragmented AM industry.
New Remote Access and Cloud Solutions are Coming
With vaccination campaigns underway, we all hope for a new normal. Whatever that may be, the period of forced remote work has shifted the best practices view. Clearly, there are challenges to total remote work but it is also not likely that companies will return to 100% at work physical presence either. This increases the importance of remote access and cloud connectivity and applications. Remote access will be a continuing need and the offered solutions for AM are incomplete at best. Due to the nature of this need, it will have to be addressed sooner rather than later and therefore we expect this trend. Similarly, digital supply chains and distributed manufacturing have gained momentum during the pandemic and this momentum is predicted to persist even if the vaccine does its thing.
Let’s Hope: Sustainability
One of the things we learned from this pandemic is that when mankind is locked down, nature flourishes. We also saw that we can manage with much less air travel and other potentially emitting activities. The pandemic may have been a wake up call from mother earth on this subject as well. Several companies, notably EOS and Materialise, have put a lot of emphasis on sustainability before 2020 and they have been joined by quite a few additional ecosystem players. For the health of our planet and future generations, let’s hope that increased sustainability is a trend that we will indeed see in 2021!
For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates. Pictures: The sustainable Genesis eco-screen by BigRep, BMW‘s IDAM project – metal parts, and Kamp C‘s 3D printed house.