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3D Hubs, the Dutch manufacturing network that connects people who need objects manufactured with nearby hubs, recently released its quarterly report on the 3D printing industry for Q1 2019. The report analyzed five data sources: “transactional data from 750,000+ 3D printed parts, an independent survey of 400 businesses, exclusive interviews with industry experts, and systematic reviews of the latest industry news and market reports.”

An overview of trends and a timeline of key industry events in 2018 are also included in the report. Heatmaps of regional activity and charts of applications, materials, and processes provide an excellent perspective of the growth of 3D printing, and interviews with the CTO of Desktop Metal and the VP of Ultimaker offer exclusive insights into the future of the industry.

Some of the key findings include:

  • 75% of the 3D Hubs global customer base consists of SMEs (small- to medium-sized enterprises) with less than 100 employees.
  • North America makes up 49% of orders while Europe accounts for 41%; California and the UK order the most 3D prints within those regions.
  • Annual growth is forecasted to range between 18.2% and 27.2% globally.
  • Plastics are still more popular than metals by a factor of 100 to 1, and nylon has become more popular ever since HP launched the MJF (Multi Jet Fusion) printer.
  • 3 out of 4 major automotive companies in the US and Germany have adopted 3D printing, 75% of which use the technologies for end-use parts.

3D printing by application breaks down as follows: Industrial 31%, Electrical 21%, Consumer 14%, Medical 10%, and Services, Automotive, Aerospace, and Art filling out the rest. It’s important to note that the automotive and aerospace industries are large customers of 3D printed goods, but they don’t typical source those goods through the online service that 3D Hubs provides. Also of note is that industrial applications are the number-one use case while art is the lowest, data that is at odds with public perception. Indeed, interviews with industry experts revealed that further expansion of use cases for 3D printing is lack of awareness, not technical ability. Of 400 engineers surveyed, 50% used online services for end-use parts but only 38% used 3D printing for that purpose. However, 3D printing was their first choice for prototyping 91% of the time.

Brian Garret, co-founder and CPO of 3D Hubs, commented on the evolution of 3D printing: “Engineers want to receive the same result every time they press print. Ensuring repeatable results has been the holy grail of industrial 3D printing for many years now. However, it takes time for international organizations like ASTM and ISO to publish their technical standards. So many early innovators, like BMW and 3D Hubs, are coming up with their in-house processes to ensure quality. This will expedite the wider industrial adoption of 3D printing.

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