According to “Plastics In 3D Printing Markets: A Ten-Year Opportunity Forecast,” a new report from the industry analysts SmarTech Markets Publishing, the market for polymers used in 3D printing has already reached $310 million and will grow to $1.4 billion by 2019. With a rapidly growing user base in the consumer and professional market, SmarTech believes that high value-added plastic materials used by 3D printers represent a high-margin opportunity for materials companies, equipment manufacturers and others in the 3D printing supply chain.
In personal 3D printing, the analysts see the biggest opportunities in developing more robust ABS and PLA print materials for the serious hobbyist and off-time engineer class. More durable polymers like TPU, polycarbonate, and nylon will also win market share over the next ten years. Meanwhile, polymer powders for laser sintering may represent the overall largest opportunity in plastic materials.
Meanwhile, new materials that help professionals achieve distinct performance benefits with 3D-printed parts can be used to justify higher materials prices. Specifically, materials that offer lighter and better performing aerospace components, reduce sub-assemblies, or enable customized medical implants and dental solutions will provide a lot of value to the relevant market segments.
However, in weight terms, three types of plastics — ABS, PLA and nylon — will continue to account for the biggest share of the 3D-printed materials market throughout the forecasting period covered by the report. Together these plastics will account for more than 13,000 metric tons in 2019.
For now, equipment manufacturers control the supply chain for 3D printed materials and this has reduced the opportunities for large materials companies. Nonetheless, some material companies are partnering with smaller equipment manufacturers or even developing their own 3D printing equipment. And some companies like CRP Technologies and DSM Somos are finding business by developing specialized materials for the automotive and dental applications.
Despite the growth in 3D printing, material demand will not increase to the degree needed to drive major economies of scale through larger batch sizes. This dynamic will champion materials that can be produced economically in smaller batches, such as resins. One solution to this problem has been taken by Evonik with its nylon 12 powders; to produce the powder in large batches and store the powder in inventory until it is used up. However the inefficiencies in this method are clear; large inventories eat up working capital.