The way most of us understand the Additive Manufacturing industry and where it’s headed is through media coverage. This is why coverage of the recently released Wohlers Report 2018 is so important. Since not all of us have access to the report, it’s the media’s interpretation and deliberate repackaging of the report in a certain way that helps shape how many have come to perceive this industry. This is not to say that these news reports are false or inaccurate. But rather that they’re a polished product which has undergone a process of picking and choosing to align with a publication’s specific editorial agenda. Many of the news articles covering Wohlers Report highlight the impressive growth which is propelling the industry forward, pointing to the industry’s 21% growth in 2017. They also point to the record number of 3D printers which were sold last year. And while does tell us something about the ecosystem, it’s a rather parochial take on a diverse and ever-evolving industry.
You don’t have to look far to see examples of how Additive Manufacturing has shifted from being overhyped technology to becoming an organic part of the supply chain. From GE’s decision to wholeheartedly embrace the technology to the recently released Wohlers Report, examples of how viable this technology is as an industrial manufacturing method and how rapidly the technology is growing abound. Much of the news coverage of the Wohlers Reports simply reinforces these ideas. So instead of reiterating what we already know to be true about this industry, we decided to explore and unpack two trends which these news articles hint at but don’t highlight. To do this, we focused on how the report was covered by the mainstream 3D printing publications, such as 3D Printing Industry and 3Ders, as well as a few niche publications like Metal AM.
Metal, Metal, Everywhere
From the news coverage of Wohlers Reports, it seems that there’s more awareness about the benefits of manufacturing parts using metal additive manufacturing methods. This can be seen when you consider that from 2016 to 2017 there was an 80% increase in the number of metal additive manufacturing systems sold. The Wohlers Report also mentions that the number of companies producing metal additive manufacturing systems increased form 97 in 2016 to 135 in 2017. While almost all the media coverage of the report mentioned the increased interest in metal Additive Manufacturing, only one publication made that the focus of their article. (Image up top is of a 3D printed titanium part for the Boeing 787. Manufactured by Norsk Titanium)
But it’s unhelpful to simply quote how many Additive Manufacturing systems were sold. This doesn’t tell us anything. The significance of this interest in metal actually has little to do with the number of 3D printers sold or companies selling industrial printing systems. What this interest tells us is that there’s clearly a shift towards industrial Additive Manufacturing. It also hints at the fact that Additive Manufacturing is becoming the preferred manufacturing method for many. In addition to highlighting a shift towards industrial manufacturing, the rapid growth of metal Additive Manufacturing tells us about how the technology is evolving. There’s more demand for industrial Additive Manufacturing not only because more people are aware of the technology, but because of what the technology can do for them.
Changing the Economics of Outsourcing
In an interview 3D Printing Industry conducted with Terry Wohlers, principal author and president of Wohlers Associates, about Wohlers Report 2018, Wohlers explained what surprised him most about his team’s findings: “the growing number of American manufacturers of industrial AM systems. They grew from five in March 2013 to 20 in March 2017.”
While 20 American manufacturers of industrial Additive Manufacturing systems may not sound significant, it does hint at how this ecosystem tips the balance between globalization and localization. Instead of outsourcing the production of these machines, they’re made locally. This in turn enables local businesses to Additively Manufacture parts locally without needing to outsource.
Wohlers Report is one of the most comprehensive industry reports and one of the best resources to help you understand where the Additive Manufacturing industry is headed. The media coverage of the report, however, is a different story. While not inaccurate, media coverage can be misleading and often reiterates what we already know to be true. That’s why it’s important to learn to look for the hidden, under-reported trends.