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Polymer Powder Bed Fusion Technology: What Industrialization in 3D Printing Technology Means for it

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In the 3D printing industry, polymer powder bed fusion technology isn’t what it used to be. It’s not just about two companies anymore. It’s not just about selling machines that are a few hundred thousand dollars to rapid prototyping service bureaus anymore. And, beginning late last year, it’s definitely not just about realizing long term recurring revenues through selling lots of powdered plastic anymore. Today, polymer powder bed fusion 3D printing is more than just laser sintering, and it’s one of the most industry-ready polymer printing technologies leading the charge to revolutionize manufacturing with thermoplastics.

Over the last couple of years, the landscape for polymer powder bed fusion has changed dramatically, and the expansion in the number of companies which are supporting this particular 3D printing technology is having a profound effect on the industry. Not only is HP having some great success with its Multi Jet Fusion technology based on a combination of inkjet and infrared heating technology, but now Xaar, voxeljet, and Stratasys are all involved in commercializing a similar High Speed Sintering technology which also eschews lasers in its process altogether.

Then you have companies like Formlabs, a company known for barrier-busting in polymer 3D printing, preparing to release the Fuse One laser sintering system early next year. At a starting price of $19,999 for a complete setup including post processing, the Fuse One promises some features previously only reserved for the extreme high end of the market, like a removable build chamber for continuous operation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum for the existing laser sintering market, Prodways has continued to see significant growth as a company, in part due to its entry into the laser sintering segment. Meanwhile, its development partner Farsoon is now a globally operating company and actively selling its laser sintering printers all over the world –not just in China.

The focus for most of the industry right now, like in almost all 3D printing technologies, is capturing a portion of the manufacturing market, to expand growth opportunities outside of just the prototyping and product development stages where most polymer 3D printing is used. In order to do this, most companies and users agree that printers of all print processes need to mature from a technical standpoint in order to meet the rigors and economic requirements associated with making production parts. This wave of industrialization has fallen heavily on the powder bed fusion market, and now the technical innovations being developed for both laser sintering and inkjet based powder bed fusion systems are driving a renewed focus on the hardware itself.

With our market modeling capabilities, SmarTech believes that this industry evolution will shift the opportunities in polymer powder bed fusion technology over the next several years to one which favors machine-related opportunities, rather than the current opportunity structure which is driven by high volume material sales.

polymer powder bed fusion technology

Source: SmarTech Publishing

Seen above in the graph from SmarTech’s polymer additive manufacturing market models featured in our latest report, Powder Bed Fusion Markets and Technologies 2018, the percentage of overall primary market revenues in powder bed fusion up until the end of 2017 were driven more from the sale of powdered materials rather than the sale of printers themselves. But as the competitive landscape and value chain expanded over the years (with Prodways, HP, Farsoon, and many others ramping up operations in powder bed technologies), the shift back to a hardware-focused market structure began. Going through into 2019, SmarTech expects that investment into polymer powder bed fusion printers will grow significantly, tipping the balance of primary revenue generating opportunities to the printer, as new systems with new production-oriented capabilities and features become the focus. The expansion of polymer powder bed 3D printing technologies is expected to ultimately drive the segment to become the highest grossing polymer 3D printing technology segment in the world by 2025 within professional and industrial printing environments, overtaking the material extrusion market.

For more insights and market analysis specific to the polymer powder bed fusion market, check out Powder Bed Fusion Markets and Technologies, 2018.

By: Scott Dunham
Vice President of Research
SmarTech Publishing