RAPID + TCT 2024 executive panel sees optimism mingled with a sober dose of reality

Leaders from 3D Systems, EOS, Nano Dimension, Nikon and Stratasys offer mixed opinions on the state of the additive manufacturing industry.

From left to right: Moderator Laura Griffiths, Jeff Graves, Marie Langer, Charlie Grace, Yoav Zeif and Yoav Stern.

The first day of RAPID + TCT 2024 saw a riveting opening keynote with a panel discussion of industry leaders from 3D Systems, EOS, Nano Dimension, Nikon and Stratasys. Topics ranged from new technologies, to the supply chain, to sustainability. Yet some of the deepest insights came from broader statements about the industry as a whole.

“Let’s be honest with ourselves,” said Stratasys CEO, Yoav Zeif. “When you look at the big buckets for additive: prototyping, manufacturing aids and bridge production, we are nothing, even in prototyping. We’re 40% of prototyping, where we are ‘mainstream’ and if you look at manufacturing aids, we are 1%. If you look at end-use parts, we are 0.05%. Thank God we’re still in the second decimal point!”

Jeff Graves, president and CEO of 3D Systems had a slightly more optimistic perspective, though once again tempered by reality. “Acceptance of 3D printing has never been better,” he said, “and our application engineers are busy around the clock developing new applications for metals and polymers. More customers are coming in looking at this as a serious production process. Certainly, capital spending from our customer base has been light, so we aren’t as far along in sales as we are in new applications, but it will follow.”

Marie Langer, CEO of EOS, agreed that broader adoption is just a matter of time. “Big OEMs and other high-tier companies all expect AM will be part of their programs for their products. I can say that EOS, our basket has never been fuller with opportunities and great applications. So, it’s an exciting time, but we need to be patient.”

Yoav Stern, CEO and board member of Nano Dimension seemed to take the most pessimistic view. “I have to agree with you,” he said in response to Zeif. “This industry is not where we expected it to be in 2024. I’ve looked at over 350 companies over the past four years, and none of them are making money. The service providers, using our machines that we’ve invested in R&D, they’re making money. This is an abnormality that cannot stay.”

Not surprisingly, given the events of the past year, Stern’s preferred solution to the AM industry’s challenges is consolidation. “You cannot make money when you are too deconsolidated,” he said. “Innovation starts from the manufacturers, and if they are not profitable, how long will it take?”

Langer seemed to agree, though offered a different terminology. “I don’t like the word ‘consolidation’,” she said. “I use ‘smart partnerships’ because, in the end, it comes down to where it makes sense for us to partner with other organizations. But we need to be patient if we want to build resilient organizations, because we’re also talking about talent: What does it do to our people if we’re not scaling as we planned? That’s why we need to focus on getting our house in order, not just scaling, scaling, scaling.”

Charlie Grace, chief commercial officer and president of the Americas for Nikon SLM Solutions, noted that the industry is still suffering from overhype and the rhetoric surrounding 3D printing technology when it first appeared. “I’ve seen people who’ve spent millions of dollars on a machine that doesn’t work and now it’s just a coat hanger,” he said. “To get that sort of customer to invest and try to earn their trust and respect: it’s a challenge. That’s why there’s more emphasis on building relationships with customers, because we need to walk the walk and talk the talk. Unfortunately, the hype has hurt us.”

All of these points suggest that the additive industry is maturing, with a greater push toward standardization and, if some companies have their way, consolidation as well. Stay tuned for more updates from the RAPID + TCT 2024 show floor.

Written by

Ian Wright

Ian is a senior editor at engineering.com, covering additive manufacturing and 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing. Ian holds bachelors and masters degrees in philosophy from McMaster University and spent six years pursuing a doctoral degree at York University before withdrawing in good standing.