Point of View

Realign the 3D printing services portfolio to post-pandemic trends

December 10, 2020

3D printing has been prominent for several years, but it has mostly been confined to limited manufacturing opportunities. For the past few years, enterprises have been exploring outlets to expand the scope of 3D-printing applications across the value chain. According to Statista, the global 3D printing products and services market is expected to exceed $40 billion by 2024. The industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26.4% between 2020 and 2024. Overall, the market is expanding beyond R&D, strategic projects, and high-value goods manufacturing to large scale manufacturing. COVID-19 has also accelerated 3D printing manufacturing opportunities, as several enterprises leveraged 3D printing for diverse needs (both for core business and healthcare accessories manufacturing). In this PoV, we explore how different industry players are using 3D printing for their business landscape and how service providers should prepare themselves for 3D printing services. Service providers looking to capitalize on the latest 3D printing trends need to be aware to build a comprehensive 3D printing services portfolio.

Enterprises are pushing the boundary of 3D printing

3D printing applications are becoming popular across verticals, including industrial manufacturing, healthcare, and consumer goods. The applications are also expanding beyond R&D and innovation to after-market services, emergency services, and other areas as described in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1: 3D printing use cases are expanding beyond manufacturing


Domain or area of applicationsDescription

In April 2019, Tel Aviv University researchers “printed” the world’s first 3D vascularized engineered heart using a patient’s cells and biological materials.


In February 2019, British aerospace company Orbex announced that its 3D printed rockets would be the first to launch from the UK’s spaceport.




In 2018, GE Aviation announced that it had manufactured 30,000 3D printed fuel nozzles for its LEAP engine.
AutomotiveIn 2018, Volkswagen joined hands with the technology company HP to use 3D metal printing in mass production.
Retail and CPGSince 2017, eyewear firm Specsy has been harnessing 3D printing to create one-of-a-kind personalized eyewear.
Retail and CPG 

In January 2019, Dr. Scholl’s, a foot care firm, launched customized 3D-printed insoles through a partnership with Wiivv Fit Technology.


(COVID-19 related)

In March 2020, Isinnova, a Brescia-based engineering firm, used 3D printing to meet the hospital’s demands for respirator valves.
Healthcare and medical devices

(COVID-19 related)

In March 2020, Airwolf3D used 3D printers to manufacture respirator valves and custom medical components.

Source: HFS Research

Resilience, agility, new business models, and technology advancements are expediting 3D printing adoption

To date, 3D printing has offered few examples of large-scale applications. COVID-19 ushered the 3D printing industry toward efficient manufacturing and optimum resource utilization. Step by step, 3D printing is getting closer to breaking into mass-production industries. Newer technologies are making the mass production concept possible. Some firms, such as Carbon, Desktop Metal, and SPEE3D, have been pursuing mass production. These trends are accelerating 3D printing adoption and increasing the industrialization of 3D printing use cases:

  • Resilience and agility: Enterprises are focusing anew on resilience and agility, and as a part of that, supply chain diversification and risk management are a priority. 3D printing perfectly aligns with these strategic objectives as it can help mitigate supply chain disruption. But enterprises should also keep in mind the limitations of 3D printing’s size, quality, and speed.
  • New business model: The “as-a-service” model is becoming popular, so, in the future, enterprises can sell a design to customers who then print it at their convenience. Mass personalization can also accelerate the as-a-service model.
  • Emerging technologies: Maintaining a design’s security and authenticity is a challenge when transferring designs for 3D printing. Cybersecurity and blockchain applications could help manufacturers address that challenge.
  • 3D printing technology advancements: The advent of different polymers and advanced printers now enables a vast range of products to be printed across more industries, such as automotive, aerospace, and healthcare.
  • R&D and innovation: Due to new techniques like generative design, there are now infinite design possibilities. 3D printing can expedite this experimentation with quick prototype development and validation.

Service providers should keep a close watch on emerging opportunities

With technology advancements (such as improved printing speed and quality and printing materials choices) and increased availability of low-cost printers, enterprises are exploring the feasibility of 3D printing across their value chain. In addition to promising start-ups, several large industrial companies like GE, Siemens, and HP have begun exploring this segment by offering printing software (as integrations with other applications or design software), printer, and material options. Service providers already have strong relationships with these large industrial companies, so they can leverage these existing relationships for 3D printing.

Service providers should focus on new opportunities such as

  • Landscape analysis, which involves profiling machinery, parts, or inventory for feasibility analysis, such as to create a catalog for the components that can be 3D-printed;
  • Integrating 3D-printing functions with the design process, manufacturing, and supply chain;
  • New 3D printing application development, which could be across the value chain from innovation to after-market services.

With the changing business dynamics around 3D printing, service providers should also relook at the different areas of expertise, including the consulting, engineering, and IT/intelligence components of 3D printing as described below.

  • There will be opportunities for strategic consulting related to business model change and operating model alignment.
  • We expect more technology roadmap consulting related to selecting material technology and applying emerging technologies to enable 3D printing.
  • There will be greater demand for engineering support for more 3D-printing use-case opportunities in the business landscape.

The Bottom Line: Service providers should not consider 3D printing as an add-on manufacturing technology. Instead, they should align it with clients’ overall transformation initiatives.

Resilience and agility are the new competitive advantages in the post-pandemic era. 3D printing perfectly aligns with this goal, as it encourages localized manufacturing with little disruption. Emerging technologies and the advancement of 3D printing are overcoming several 3D printing challenges. Service providers should focus not only on the engineering aspects of 3D printing but also on how 3D printing can increase overall business efficiency, responsiveness, and continuity.

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