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Growth slows in metal 3D printer shipments in 1H’16 – Industry remains bullish on outlook for metal sector, as GE increases investment

Worldwide shipments of 3D Printing machines which produce metal parts were up +17% in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period one year ago despite the woes in the overall Industrial/Professional 3D Printer market, according to figures released today by IT Market research company CONTEXT. Metal based 3D Printers remain one of the bright spots of the struggling Industrial/Professional* 3D Printer market (made up of printers mostly focused on plastics and metals) which witnessed -15% fewer printers shipped in the first half of 2016 compared to 1H 2015. Quarterly tracking shows that the hot-growth sub-sector of Metal 3D Printers is slowing, however with Q2’16 showing only +12% more machines shipped compared to a year ago.

The slowing growth of printer shipments in recent quarters is not impacting the bullish outlook for this sector of the Industrial 3D Printing market, with this "slow down" seen as a micro-blip mostly caused by activities surrounding one of the largest companies in the world, General Electric. GE, through its GE Aviation group, last month announced its intention to acquire two of the top five leading producers of metal 3D Printing machines (Arcam AB and Concept Laser). GE's Aviation business has become a large user of metal 3D Printing in recent years with its LEAP engine part being the poster child for the use of 3D printing in production (3D printing has historically been mostly focused on Rapid Prototyping as opposed to being used to make end-production parts). "The 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing market for metals has just been validated once again as one of the world's largest companies, General Electric, doubled down on their investment in the technology, acquiring two of the largest companies in the space. GE intends not only to make machines for their own use, but also to begin a new business of selling printers as well", noted Chris Connery VP for Global Analysis at CONTEXT. The metal 3D Printer segment continues to be an important part of the market. While in the first half of the year, shipments of metal 3D Printers accounted for just 9% of the Industrial/Professional printer total (up from 6% a year ago) their shipments accounted for 35% of the total printer revenues in the period thanks to an ASP of €417K per printer (compared to an ASP of €103K for the sector in total).

The near-term slowdown is mostly perceived as a market correction since indeed GE was also a large customer for the now acquired companies. GE looks to now move past the distractions of acquisitions to integrate these new companies into its portfolio and begin to build-out its new printer business. The industry continues to see many new upstarts in the metal 3D Printing market as well ranging from totally new players and spin-off companies such as Additive Industries and XJet, to heavyweight manufacturing equipment stalwarts such as DMG Mori, Trumpf, dipping their toes into Additive Manufacturing. They all join the current industry leader EOS and a handful of others going after not only the Aerospace industry but also the Automotive, Healthcare, Dental and Jewelry markets all of which have begun to fully embrace metal 3D Printing. "Forecasts remain bullish in this still hot sector of 3D Printing", noted Connery, "with a robust CAGR of 44% to 2020 projected in the metal 3D Printing segment alone."