‘When you find yourself 3D printing thousands of parts per week, you gain the kind of learning typically very few of your super users have’

tct MagazineSam DaviesDecember 24, 2020

It’s been quite a year.

One of struggle, one of anguish, one of a technology that may have previously failed to live up to such lofty promise, perhaps now finding its role in the manufacturing landscape.

Though there were plenty of businesses in the 3D printing industry that had significant issues to encounter – GE in its AM-related goodwill impairment charges or Stratasys and 3D Systems in their workforce reductions – the technology itself comes out of 2020 with an enhanced reputation.

It was responsible for millions of parts produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to alleviate slightly the pressure that medical professionals and procurement personnel were under, while allowing manufacturers to pivot from what they typically produced to what, in that moment, we needed them to.

Avi Reichental, Nexa 3D’s CEO, headed 3D Systems throughout 3D printing technology’s period of hype some ten years ago, his current company deployed its Stereolithography and Powder Bed Fusion technologies to print thousands and thousands of pandemic-related parts, and subsequent to that experience, launched the xCure post-processing station. While 2020 is not likely to be a year any of us will forget, no matter how much we might like to, Reichental believes it will be a turning point for the technology.

But not before some short-term hurdles to overcome. As a company that was working to establish itself in the additive manufacturing market, first with its NXE400 SLA offering and later its QLS portfolio through the acquisition of NXT Factory, Nexa3D was one of the lucky 3D printing vendors who successfully managed to sell 70 units through a turbulent year. That was never going to be the case across the board as manufacturers far and wide felt the pinch of economic disruptions brought on by the pandemic.

“There are going to be companies that will win during this period, because they were prepared or they have the ‘right product’ and companies that will probably feel pressure on their commercial activities,” Reichental told TCT. “For some, it will be harder to sell for a few more periods if they don’t have the right price points or if they haven’t been able to virtualise and hybridise their go-to-market [strategies]. It’s going to be challenging, particularly since many of the available customers slow down their spending, conserve cash to wait and see how they do.”

What the ‘right product’ refers to in this sector is primarily desktop printers and online service offerings, products that are low cost or easily accessed via remote locations. Reichental posits that many product companies will have bought desktop machines for engineers to take home to enable them to continue working on the design and development of parts in much the same way as other remote workers may have been given a new laptop or greater bandwidth to continue their duties.

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