Another Blow to the 3D Printing Sector: Layoffs at Essentium

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Texas-based firm Essentium faces a new round of layoffs, reflecting the latest in a series of staff reductions throughout the 3D printing industry. According to an anonymous source, the company has laid off at least 16 people, with some speculations suggesting that the number could be as high as in the 30s.

3DPrint.com received an official statement from the company. Essentium CEO Blake Teipel remarked, “Since last year, Essentium has made significant strategic adjustments to ensure its sustained success in the additive manufacturing industry. As part of this continuous effort, we had to reevaluate certain roles that no longer aligned with our business strategy. Regrettably, this led to a workforce reduction. This is the hardest decision for a leader to make, yet reshaping our organization gives us the strategic and financial fortitude to accelerate key initiatives which will drive our success. We are committed to supporting our affected teammates during the transition.”

Yet, Essentium is not alone in facing these challenges. Other firms like Beehive Industries, AMT, and 3D Systems made similar announcements in 2023. The manufacturing sector’s troubles, in general, have been building up over time, with economic indicators showing concerning signs of a broad downturn at a global scale.

By the numbers

According to recent data, manufacturing worldwide has been on a consistent decline. In June, it hit some of its lowest levels of the year, pushing more companies towards layoffs as demand weakened. The June ISM Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) underlined this trend, with manufacturing contracting for the eighth month. Such consecutive months of decline, following over two years of growth, raise alarms about the sector’s immediate future.

The numbers from the ISM report are concerning. The PMI was at 46%, a small drop from 46.9% in May. This means that manufacturing has been shrinking, and that’s a concern for everyone in the industry. The New Orders Index, which indicates future production, was also down at 45.6%. The Production Index, which tells us about current manufacturing levels, decreased to 46.7% from 51.1% in May.

What’s more, the Employment Index, which looks at jobs in the industry, dropped to 48.1%, showing fewer jobs in manufacturing. The only good news is that the Transportation Equipment sector was the only one out of the big six manufacturing areas to grow in June. All of this tells us that the manufacturing industry is facing some challenges.

Outside of the US, the situation is similarly bleak. Once hailed as a manufacturing powerhouse, Vietnam is grappling with a sharp downturn. A recent survey released by the Private Economic Development Research Board shows that 82% of businesses in the country are considering layoffs or cessation due to dwindling orders.

China, the world’s manufacturing behemoth, is no exception either. China’s manufacturing sector has struggled after its lowest annual growth in a quarter-century in 2015. The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai reports that 20% of American manufacturers in China are considering layoffs in the coming year. These proposed layoffs are not just numbers on paper but indicate the human cost behind every statistic.

Roller coaster history

Essentium’s expertise lies in bridging the gap between traditional and additive manufacturing. Its High-Speed Extrusion (HSE) platform and tailored materials have promised quicker production and cost efficiencies. In addition to its innovative printing technology, Essentium provides optimized materials tailored for its systems, ensuring quality in the final product. Its overarching goal is to broaden the capabilities of AM in the industrial sector, promising quicker production and cost efficiencies. However, its journey has seen its share of challenges.

In 2021, the company was on track for a special purpose acquisition companies (SPAC) merger deal to go public that would’ve seen its valuation soar close to one billion dollars. However, this deal collapsed, stalling the startup’s expansion plans. As a result, Essentium lost another deal. This time with Collider, a startup that officially came out of stealth mode in 2016 with its hybrid Programmable Tooling technology and Orchid 3D printer. Unfortunately, Collider closed shop in early 2022. Later, Collider Founder Graham Bredemeyer went off to work for robotics software company Adaxis.

Essentium's HSE 280i HT 3D printer Essentium’s HSE 280i HT 3D printer. Image courtesy of Essentium.

Job market reflections

In 2022, according to data from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the manufacturing sector accounted for over 12 million jobs. In this big industry, figuring out how many jobs are just for 3D printing or AM is tough. However, despite the rapid growth of the AM domain, it still constitutes a minor segment in the overall job landscape. Some estimates suggest that the US AM sector offers tens of thousands of jobs, but this remains a small part of the 12.2 million manufacturing jobs. Determining a precise figure or percentage demands more focused research or surveys, emphasizing the intersection of 3D printing employment within the larger manufacturing sector.

In recent months, many of those laid off have turned to LinkedIn, one of the premier social networking sites, in search of new opportunities. Interestingly, while this platform serves as a medium for professionals to share their layoff stories, it’s also the same space where numerous 3D printing job opportunities are listed. Our cursory research on LinkedIn and other job forums revealed a high demand for workers in the 3D printing industry. Specifically, searches using terms like “3D printing” or “additive manufacturing” yield an interesting number of job openings, with at least 4,000 positions available in the US. However, a deeper investigation is warranted to determine the nature of these roles. For example, are they suitable for industry veterans or predominantly entry-level positions? This differentiation is crucial in understanding the true job landscape for experienced professionals in the sector.

Peter Cappelli, an HR expert and Director of the Center for HR at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “Businesses have never done as much hiring as they do today. They’ve never spent as much money doing it. And they’ve never done a worse job of it.” The excerpt is from a 2019 Harvard Business Review article where Cappelli criticizes modern hiring practices, noting an over-reliance on outsourced firms and electronic filtering tools, leading to inefficient and questionable recruitment outcomes. This year, Cappelli suggests the decline in effective employee management stems from financial accounting practices that treat human capital investment as a current expense, discouraging firms from investing in their workforce, while benefits from good management remain intangible in financial reports.

For the global manufacturing sector, the path ahead seems filled with challenges as the industry grapples with reduced demand, rising costs, and an unpredictable economic climate. Transparency, compassion, and understanding from companies are now more essential than ever. In the times ahead, companies and employees can find new avenues for growth and support each other through these challenging times.

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