By Jason Vander Griendt

September 20, 2018 at 5:59 am

3D Printing has been on quite a ride so far in the last decade, but here we are; 2018, a year where the 3D printing industry is exploding, to say the least, and where the technology seems like it’s finally catching up to its full potential.

Although there will always be detractors and unfulfilled hype whenever a new technology starts to get a solid grip in the market, we can clearly see that additive manufacturing technologies are making their way more and more into our everyday lives, and becoming an important part of the product development cycle as costs of printers and materials continually decrease.

For anyone who still feels unsure about the role 3D printing is playing in society, we wanted to share with you the actual numbers and statistics from 27 different surveys, studies, papers and other research from authoritative sources and companies everyone knows (Including the likes of Gartner, Wohlers, Sculpteo, General Electric, and many others) showing just how important additive manufacturing is for the world right now.

The Current State of Additive Manufacturing

Among the studies we’ve researched, there are some which have made educated guesses in previous years on how the 3D printing industry would look in 2018. These stats show us what the industry was like in 2016 – 2017, and we can see if expectations have been met, but first some quick stats:

The average budget for 3D Printing increased from $6,132 in 2016 to $9,504 in 2017; the market shows signs of maturing – Sculpteo 2017

47% of companies surveyed have seen a higher ROI on their 3D Printing investments this year compared to 2016 – Sculpteo 2017

55% predict they will be spending more on 3D Printing services and solutions in 2017 – Sculpteo 2017

In 2017, Sculpteo surveyed nearly 1000 specialists, most of them CEOs and engineers, and found very positive insights from them regarding the state of 3D printing and its staple role in the manufacturing industry.

Due to the expectancy of future cost decline of adopting this technology, and despite the positive atmosphere, there were still some polarizing results that would change a lot in the span of a year however, as we’re about to see.

78% of 3D printing services businesses expect to increase their spending in 2017 – Sculpteo 2017

Offering customized products and limited series products (34%) is the highest priority for services businesses in 2017 – Sculpteo 2017

71% of services firms attained a higher ROI this year compared to 2016, versus 47% of all respondents globally – Sculpteo 2017

Sculpteo’s study found that one of the most significant changes in 2017, was the amount of 3D printing services providers, and their increases in profit. A higher amount of service providers would prove to be a pillar in the rise in demand too. As competition has risen, prices have been forced down. This was a trend spotted by many manufacturing firms during 2017.

Moving Forward to 2018

2018 started strong for 3D printing, and we saw a massive increase in the adoption of additive manufacturing technologies for a wide array of purposes, not only rapid prototyping, as we had seen in previous years.

This year, Sculpteo conducted a new survey of more than 1000+ specialists, a group that was composed again mostly by company owners and engineers, with very interesting results.

70% of companies have increased their investments in 3D printing in 2018 versus 49% in 2017 – Sculpteo 2018

74 % of respondents say their competitors also use 3D printing against 59% from 2017 – Sculpteo 2018

93% of the manufacturing companies already using 3D printing in 2018, stated that it enables them to gain competitive advantages; including reducing time-to-market and the flexibility to support shorter production runs for customers.

Despite these stats however, and most companies looking to utilize 3D printing to some extent in their future production processes, company decision-makers still aren’t very knowledgeable on the subject, as General Electric found out in their 2018 report.

Only 4 in 10 (41%) business executives said they were very familiar with 3D printing – GE Report 2018

Let’s dive a bit deeper, and have a look at the spaces where 3D printing has thrived in the previous years, and how it improved even further in 2018.

Where Is the True 3D Printing Potential Right Now?

Before 2016, and some narrow applications of 3D printing, additive manufacturing was considered mainly as a superior way of rapid prototyping parts, focusing more on the initial stages of design and production. It’s very interesting to see how things have changed from that point over the last couple of years.

This change in trends was already being spotted by Sculpteo in 2017, as their study found, where they claimed:

3D Printing technology is mainly used to accelerate product development (28%), offer customized products (16%) and to increase production flexibility (13%) – Sculpteo 2017

In 2018 (…) manufacturing will move beyond prototyping to increasingly incorporate end-use production – Sculpteo 2017

According to this study, 57% of all 3D printing work is done in the first phases of new product development, underscoring 3D printing’s contribution to reducing time-to-market for new products. In addition, 22% of respondents are relying on 3D printing as part of their production processes.

We’ve often seen trends that suggest that the usage of 3D printing for prototyping and design will continue to be the most active application, as EY’s report from 2016 stated:

After analyzing 57 case studies from various industries, we saw that rapid prototyping with 3D printing reduced average prototyping time by 63% on the product development process – EY’s Report 2016

Accelerating product development is the highest priority companies are relying on 3D printing for, jumping from 29% in 2017 to 39% in 2018 – Sculpteo 2018

As we can see, additive manufacturing continued to be a strong force for design and prototyping in 2018, but we also started to see a shift moving towards full production:

Prototyping (55%), production (43%) and Proof of Concept models (41%) are the three most popular 3D printing applications in 2018 with R&D departments being the most active adopters – Sculpteo 2018

If anything is clear from these trends, it is that we should also expect additive manufacturing for prototyping to grow even further this year and in the years to come, but that 3D printing will also see growth in other areas. For instance, we also saw a 21% increase for production environments and 18% growth for proof of concept uses since last year.

95% of 3D Printing Power Users view the technology as a competitive advantage in their company’s strategies. They are also more likely to attain a positive ROI for 3D Printing this year (47% to 57%). Also, 81% of Power Users believe that their competitors also use 3D Printing, versus 59 of the total – Sculpteo 2017

Sculpteo has also compared power users (3D printing-first businesses) to other user groups, and saw very positive results towards 3D printing adoption.

Companies who consider themselves to be a 3D printing-first business jumped from 15% to 22% this year, indicating a greater focus on integration to attain more benefits – Sculpteo 2018

38% of companies spent between $1K to $10K on 3D printing last year and those investing over $100K increased 3X, jumping from 4% in 2017 to 12% in 2018 – Sculpteo 2018

The engineering and manufacturing company Jabil also conducted a survey during 2017, in which they found revealed some very similar insights to the Sculpteo survey but from a slightly different angle, for instance that:

81% of manufacturers who responded to the survey reported that they’re using 3D printing today – Jabil 2017

40% of manufacturers expect their 3D printing budget to more than double in the next 12 months – Jabil 2017

Only 12% of the survey participants consider themselves leaders in adopting 3D printing. The majority (67%) characterize themselves as being able to move quickly, but only once they see others having success – Jabil 2017

As the numbers suggest, many companies seem to be holding their cards and waiting for the perfect moment to adopt 3D printing, however early adopters naturally have a solid advantage. Which group does your company belong too?

Jabil’s 2017 study also looked at the growth of additive manufacturing in the organic 3D printing and wearable materials industries.

From 3D printing genetically programmed bacterial cells, to 3D printed viable organs, 2018 has been an excellent year for advances in additive manufacturing with organic materials.

Some laboratories are already using bioprinting; a way of 3D printing by using bionic nanomaterials to produce organic tissue, enhance regenerative medicine, and even starting to look forward at human-machine interfaces.

Advancements in 3D printing technology may also disrupt prosthesis manufacturing to the point of reducing current costs by 99%!

We’ve also seen other areas of disruption in the medical support industry caused by 3D printing, for example, when it took over the hearing-aid field back in 2015:

The U.S. hearing aid industry converted to 99% additive manufacturing in less than 500 days – Harvard Business Review 2015

In a study by Gartner this year, we also found some rather interesting facts:

By 2021, 25% of surgeons will practice on 3D-printed models of the patient before surgery – Gartner Blog Network 2018

Gartner estimates that nearly 3% of large hospitals and medical research institutions have 3DP capabilities on site – Gartner Blog Network 2018

There’s no doubt that 3D printing will continue to become a considerable force in the health industry in the following years.

How Has 3D Printing Improved in 2018? What’s Different?

If we ignore the elephant in the room, aka adoption costs (which are actually going down, just not as fast as many would like), we can see that one of the main improvements for 3D printing in the last year, has been the speed with which 3D printers work.

To print faster in the past, printing quality had to be reduced, but recently we’ve had improvements that have meant printing speeds have doubled while producing the same level of detail, at no additional cost. Newly developed desktop 3D printers are even reaching 10X the printing speed of most commercial printers from previous years.

Desktop 3D printer sales revenue increased 31.5 % to an estimated $ 610.5 million in 2017 – Wohlers report 2018

There are also new applications being used like Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP), that can grow parts by combining oxygen and UV light to print parts from a recipient of resin.

This process changes everything we knew about traditionally printing parts layer by layer, and can be from 25 up to 100 times faster than additive manufacturing, and it’s already been used to consistently produce commercially viable parts.

Another breakthrough this year for end-use production has been metal printing, which has become cheap and efficient enough to become a serious force in the market in 2018, up from being fairly cost prohibitive in previous years, as Sculpteo, IDTechEX and the Wohlers report from 2018 stated:

36% of companies are using metal materials for 3D printing this year, up from 28% in 2017 signaling greater adoption for production operations – Sculpteo 2018

An estimated 1768 metal AM systems were sold in 2017, compared to 983 systems in 2016, an increase of nearly 80% – Wohlers report 2018

As we can see, the leap and speed of adoption of 3D printed metals, has been one of the critical components of this year’s increase in adoption rates and budget expansions.

135 companies around the world produced and sold industrial AM systems in 2017, up from 97 companies in 2016 – Wohlers report 2018

It’s pretty evident that in the future, metal 3D printing will become an asset to solve manufacturing challenges for customized and complex metal prototype casting.

The global market for 3D printing metals will grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 22 percent and be worth $966 million by 2028 – IDTechEx 2017

The global market for 3D printing metals will reach a value of $12 billion by the year 2028 – IDTechEx 2017

What Else Can We Expect for the Future of 3D Printing?

According to Gartner reports, the current trends suggest that huge leaps in 3D printing growth are coming:

By 2021, 20% of the world’s top 100 consumer goods companies will use 3D printing to create custom products – Gartner Blog Network 2018

By 2021, 20% of enterprises will establish internal startups to develop new 3D print-based products and services – Gartner Blog Network 2018

By 2021, 40% of manufacturing enterprises will establish 3D printing centers of excellence (COE) – Gartner Blog Network 2018

Jabil also had its own expectations for future market trends:

63% of manufacturers expect 3D printing use to at least double in the next 2 to 5 years – Jabil 2017

Aritzon also conducted a study in which the trends were iterated towards the year 2022, finding the following results:

The additive manufacturing market is expected to reach $11 billion by 2022 with a compound annual growth rate of 27% from 2016 to 2022. – Aritzon 2017

There’s also a fascinating market study from Frost and Sullivan that states the following in regards to the expectations for additive manufacturing up unto 2025:

Additive manufacturing is poised to grow at a rate of 15.0% (CAGR, 2015–2025) – Frost and Sullivan 2015

So here we can see compound annual growth rate (CAGR) predictions from reliable market research companies in the range of 15% up to 27% for the additive manufacturing industry in the following years, not too shabby, right?

The adoption of additive manufacturing in the workplace will continue to expand into varying industries, with the sale of additive manufacturing products and services expected to reach $28 billion in 2023 – Wohlers report 2018

These growth rates have also been calculated for specific fields of the industry, the strongest ones being automotive, aerospace and medical:

Global 3D printing revenues in the automotive industry will grow at a CAGR of 34% between 2015– 2020 – Frost and Sullivan 2015

Additive manufacturing in the aerospace and defense industry is poised to grow at a 26% CAGR (2015–2025) – Frost and Sullivan 2015

3D printing in the medical devices vertical is expecting a growth of 23% between 2015 and 2025 – Frost and Sullivan 2015

Aerospace, automotive and medical industries are expected to account for 51% of the 3D printing market by 2025 – Frost and Sullivan 2015

We’ve also seen trends pointing at the growth of side industries of additive manufacturing, including in materials, software and services, as stated by IDTechEx:

IDTechEx forecasts that the global market for 3D printing equipment, materials, software and services is estimated to be worth $22 billion by the year 2028 – IDTechEx 2017

Final thoughts: What Manufacturing Companies Are Thinking Right Now

Looking at General Electric’s 2018 global innovation barometer, we find some fascinating insight into what companies are currently thinking about 3D printing across the globe:

Global executives are excited about the potential of 3D printing, saying it will have a positive impact (63%), increase creativity (91%) and get goods to market faster (89%). At the same time, 53% believe 3D printing has yet to reach its full potential, requiring more education and reassurance – GE GIB 2018

63% of business executives think 3D printing’s impact will be mostly positive for businesses in their country, with 31% thinking that there are both positive and negative consequences – GE GIB 2018

When companies were asked about the benefits they expect 3D printing would bring to their countries’ industries the answers were:

 91% of respondents agreed that 3D printing would allow businesses to be more creative in the products and goods they can create – GE GIB 2018

89% said it would enable products to get to market faster and 83% said that there would be a reduce the costs of goods, making them more affordable – GE GIB 2018

81% said that businesses that invest in 3D printing would leave other businesses behind, and 80% said it would be beneficial for the environment, and reduce CO2 in manufacturing – GE GIB 2018


How are you planning to adopt or develop your additive manufacturing capabilities or uses now and into the future?


Jason Vander Griendt

Jason Vander Griendt is a Mechanical Engineering Technician with years of experience working at major companies such as SNC Lavalin Inc, Hatch Ltd. Siemens and Gerdau Ameristeel. He is the CEO of JCAD – Inc., a company he started in 2006 after seeing a gap in the market for businesses who could assist clients through the entire product design and manufacturing process.

Jason has been featured in Forbes, has had his businesses analyzed and discussed in multiple start-up books, was a previous winner of the Notable8 Digital Innovator of the year award, and is a regular guest on business panels and podcasts. Email Jason at or follow him on LinkedIn.

Recent Posts

Start your project
today with free quote!