Review: Wohlers Report 2017 Offers Broad Insights into 3D Printing Industry
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on April 27, 2017 | 5113 views

As a niche industry that is continually growing, 3D printing can be difficult to wrap one’s head around. This is true both for industry veterans who may be too busy to catch every new development and novices that will need to learn the basics. Fortunately, the industry is still small enough that one publication tends to encapsulate it in its entirety: the Wohlers Report.

Produced by Wohlers Associates, the report is now in its 22nd consecutive year. ENGINEERING.com had the opportunity to review Wohlers Report 2017 to learn just how far the additive manufacturing (AM) industry has come since its inception.

Regular readers of the Wohlers Report will find a familiar compendium of information related to the broader background of the 3D industry. For those discovering AM, this report will prove essential to understanding the technology, including the various processes and applications, as well as all of the major companies worldwide.

Alongside detailed descriptions of how every general AM process works, the materials it uses and the necessary post-processing procedures it requires, Wohlers Report 2017 provides the most recent updates to the industry. This allows those unfamiliar with 3D printing to receive a crash course in AM while simultaneously bringing them up to date to the most recent industry developments.

Wohlers regulars can use this as a refresher, but they may be drawn even more to the new developments that have occurred in the past year, both at the commercial and research level, as well as the global snapshot of the market. This includes business details associated with individual firms and larger global trends which indicate how countries around the world are adopting the technology.

For this year’s report, 100 service providers, 61 industrial system manufacturers, 19 makers of third-party 3D printing materials and desktop 3D printers, as well as 76 experts and organizations and 31 nations provided input. These sources illustrate a vibrant industry that grew by 17.4% in worldwide revenues, for a total of $6.063 billion.

Compared to an increase of 25.9% in 2015, growth was slightly slower than in previous years. Wohlers attributes some of this lag to declines by Stratasys and 3D Systems, the industry’s two largest manufacturers. Responsible for 21.7% of the total pie at $1.31 billion, Wohlers estimates that  the industry would have actually grown by 24.9% if the lag was removed from the equation. This activity is quite evident from the report. According to Wohlers Report 2017, 97 manufacturers sold AM systems in 2016 – an increase from 62 in 2015 and 49 in 2014.

It is interesting to see how the industry is being shaped by these new firms, which include some of the world’s biggest companies, as well as some exciting new startups with novel 3D printing technologies. Compared to last year, new faces led the pack as the report examined some of the prominent companies in the field. Alongside industry stalwarts like EOS and EnvisionTEC were GE Aviation, HP, Carbon, Markforged and Additive Industries.

Whereas GE Aviation had previously utilized AM for the production of end parts, 2016 was the year that the company formed an official AM division by acquiring Arcam and Concept Laser. The impact of HP and Carbon’s new technologies could already be felt last year as the companies began selling systems capable of unprecedented throughput. As Wohlers Associated pointed out in its recent press release, “This wave of development and commercialization is putting pressure on the established producers of AM systems.”

(Image courtesy of Wohlers Associated.)
(Image courtesy of Wohlers Associated.)

Readers will learn that despite the performance of some of the field’s publicly traded companies, the industry is healthy. Use of 3D printing in the aerospace and automotive industries has expanded, as has the use of 3D printing for end parts. While photopolymer materials represent the largest material segment, metal AM is growing rapidly, even though the technology has only been in existence for about half of 3D printing’s almost 30-year history. At the same time, desktop 3D printing continues to expand as well.

One might have expected that desktop 3D printers (categorized as systems priced under $5,000)would become less popular since the initial boom a few years ago. Wohlers points out, however, that the technology is performing well because businesses of all sizes are using the technology more and more. The report likens the desktop era to that of early CAD software like AutoCAD. Though AutoCAD had fewer features than more expensive tools, Autodesk eventually became the largest publisher of 3D software worldwide.

During its coverage of the publicly traded 3D printing companies, the report is able to provide important insights related to AM stocks. By considering leadership changes and the emergence of new technologies, the report poses questions that may impact anyone looking to invest in the industry.

In addition to its segment on the state of the industry, Wohlers Report 2017 also provides a glimpse of the future of 3D printing. By accounting for the numerous patents filed over time, it’s possible to perceive which industries are on the horizon of new AM applications. A larger global glance at the industry also reveals which countries are undergoing 3D printing development.

Additionally, the report indexes all of the research and development pursued by various consortiums, organizations and universities. While Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory explores metamaterials and in-process quality control in the United States, Massey University in New Zealand is researching the ability to 3D print with biomaterials such as collagen and wood fiber.

Over the course of 344 pages, 28 charts and graphs, 26 tables, 232 photographs and illustrations and over 160 pages of supplemental online information, it is possible to refine an expert’s knowledge of 3D printing and provide a large stockpile of important information for novices. Having read the report for the past several years, I can attest to the fact that I always learn about a variety of new methods and concepts and come away with a fresh perspective on the industry. This year’s release of Wohlers Report continues that trend of discovery and provides an excellent overview of the world of 3D printing and additive manufacturing.


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