The business of 3D printing is substantively different today than it was even last year. Industry experts including those at Wohlers Associates, SmarTech PublishingCONTEXT, and more are noting with increased regularity: competition is heating up. The shape of the industry is evolving as more participants bring new 3D printers, new materials and new 3D printing technologies to market. But the companies that have been historically leading the pack in 3D printing aren’t going to take that quietly, and are making big moves to continue to hold on to what market share they can.

Today, 3D Systems announced a bold move to respond to the changing market with a 30% drop in the price point of the ProX SLS 500 3D printing system for the North American and European markets. The company calls this “an aggressive move to increase market share and drive adoption of the technology as companies look to shift production to additive manufacturing.” With the systems now priced starting at $270,000 and €250,000, customers in the United States and Europe — 3DS notes that prices in Asia Pacific, Japan, Africa, India and the Middle East are excluded from this move — some of the biggest markets for industrial 3D printers might see decision-makers looking toward selective laser sintering (SLS) technology.

“Market-leading total cost of operations, a wide set of materials, and durable end-use parts makes the ProX SLS 500 a win-win-win for customers,” Jim Ruder, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Plastics, 3D Systems, told 3DPrint.com. “This move helps 3D Systems place more units, expand the 3D printing market, and gain more share.”

VJ (left) and Jim Ruder at IMTS 2016 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

While much of the noise from 3D Systems lately has been focused on its Figure 4 technology, which has been prominently displayed everywhere from large installations at the biggest conferences to a single unit at one of the company’s healthcare facilities, they are by no means leaving SLS technologies to the side when looking ahead in the market. The ProX SLS 500, along with DuraForm materials, in particular has been at the fore of some of the most attention-grabbing use cases in 3D printing over the last year as applications for selective laser sintering technology remain broad. To that end, the portfolio of available materials allows for a variety of different finishes and characteristics for use in prototyping and end-use production. Material recyclability rates are high as well, which is something of a grail quest in materials development; 3DS reports that the ProX 500 can recycle up to 80% of material per build, and that the DuraForm PA material is capable of up to 95% of material in a build used for parts, reducing waste and cost per part.

“The ProX SLS 500 is winning deals today because of its superior capabilities; the new price point makes it accessible to additional customers, which we believe will enable us to increase our installed base faster and be more competitive in the market. We will continue to invest in SLS to expand our leadership position and help accelerate the shift to 3D printing production,” said Ruder.

That 3D Systems is reacting to market competition with a fairly dramatic price cut is not especially surprising; something had to be done. While we’ve become used to seeing 3D Systems near the top of the 3D printing dog pile, the company has been through its share of ups and downs. While some may have been dramatic only because ‘the higher you are, the harder you fall,’ others have been higher-profile missteps, especially during a fairly tumultuous 2015. 3DS has been bouncing back since Vyomesh Joshi (VJ) took over as President and CEO about a year ago, as he reorganized the company from the top down and has been pretty forthcoming about his plans and the production-focused path the company is taking.

In the recently released Wohlers Report 2017, generally regarded as the go-to authoritative resource in the 3D printing industry, the changing landscape was in focus. Wohlers Associates notes “interesting products and unprecedented competition in the AM industry.” Key among the biggest trends in this year’s Report is discussion of revenues, as 2016 saw 17.4% increases — which is healthy, but not exactly nipping at the heels of the 25.9% growth reported in 2015. However, gains would have been a rather more comparable 24.9% for the year… excluding the two biggest system manufacturers. Terry Wohlers has noted that competition is especially fierce in industrial 3D printing, with the number of participants doubling between 2011 and 2015.

With the big guns dragging down the overall growth rate for the industry, it’s pretty easy to see the race really moving forward, especially with many companies turning toward production-quality additive manufacturing, and with more options available for users of advanced 3D printing systems. Following a recent visit to HP’s newly opened materials lab in Oregon, I spoke to Wohlers about the approach, and what it might mean to competition. He was optimistic about what open source materials development might mean, telling me, “More materials mean increased competition and lower prices for customers.” 3D Systems, which does not employ an open source ethos, has to get creative to keep up with the companies opening up this space and driving price points down. Of course, as any technology is more widely adopted, price points will become lower organically with increasing saturation; it just usually doesn’t happen 30% at a time.

Implications of competition and increased marketplace options have been echoed by several industry experts, as competition comes into focus.

 SmarTech Publishing’s Scott Dunham told 3DPrint.com in November when examining the polymer AM market regarding the changing landscape, “This is evidenced by continued decline in hardware sales from both Stratasys and 3D Systems. However, we see the market continue to be buoyed by new entrants, and we think that the sheer volume of products now available in this segment continue to drive overall growth and create a very positive long term outlook. In particular, through 2020 we see increasing market growth (by measure of professional AM/3DP unit sales in the polymer/composite segment) returning to historically established levels of around 20 percent CAGR. This will be driven extensively by the polymer powder bed fusion and photopolymerization technology subsegments.”

Analysts are coming back to the growth factors and looking at the areas of impact affecting these segments. Figures released by CONTEXT this week examine the shape of the market, specifically noting that the leading industrial 3D printer makers lost share in 2016, while shipments overall in this segment were down by 10% and revenues up by 9%, driven by higher price points for, mostly, metal systems. CONTEXT explains that while three manufacturers continued their dominance in this segment, they “collectively lost share due to a challenging year for Stratasys and 3D Systems,” with EOS serving as the “notable stand-out exception, thanks to its growing metals business.”

CONTEXT explained, “In 2016, this side of the market was marked by: (1) decreased sales from industry leaders Stratasys and 3D Systems, (2) acquisitions by GE and the formation of GE Additive, (3) the entrance of HP into the market with the shipment of their first Multi Jet Fusion printers, and (4) growing sales in stereolithography especially from long-time player EnvisionTEC and upstart Carbon.”

Chris Connery, the company’s Vice President of Global Market Research and Analysis, whose thoughts we have heard with great interest before, expanded on some of the specific factors at play in the professional market:

“While the Industrial/Professional printer market has been historically characterised by its use for prototyping, any growth in this segment for the year came from printers used for ‘mass customization’ – such as for the dental industry – and from the sale of printers being used for complex, low-volume manufacturing such seen in the Metals space in the aerospace and medical industries.”

As overall growth continues going forward, it’s clear that attention is being paid to segments and companies that had been in decline, and how to combat these trends to stay ahead. 3D Systems’ move to cut prices by 30% on a well-known industrial machine is one of the first big reactions to the mounting number of players in the field… and it’s unlikely to be the last.

What do you think will happen next as competition continues to rev up? Discuss in the 3D Systems forum at 3DPB.com.

 



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