Canada: 3D Printing – The Manufacturing Industry's "Comeback Kid"

Speed. Scale. Diversity.

What do these words have in common? According to Deloitte, they are the three main reasons that 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), is experiencing a sustained resurgence in 2019.

Deloitte recently published the 18th edition of its Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions report, which forecasts both global and regional trends in its titular sectors for 2019. In the past, Deloitte reports explored 3D printing, expressing cautious optimism in the face of the market's supposed overenthusiasm for the new technology and its seemingly endless possibilities. Though the 3D printing market never collapsed, it did slow to a crawl after its initial boom in 2014. Currently, it appears that reality has largely caught up to the hype from years prior, resulting in notable projections for the AM market for 2019.

In several different industries, 3D printers are now able to manufacture a variety of materials faster and larger than ever before. Beyond plastic prototypes, companies can now create metal and even mixed-material parts. Deloitte predicts that metal will surpass plastics to dominate more than half of all 3D printing as early as 2020. Notably, in September 2018, Hewlett-Packard announced the launch of HP Metal Jet, supposedly the world's most advanced metals 3D printing technology for low-cost, high-quality mass production.

Deloitte predicts that global sales of enterprise 3D printers, materials, and services by large public companies will exceed $2.7 billion in 2019 and $3 billion in 2020. The yearly growth rate is expected to be close to 12.5%, nearly double that of years prior. To put that value into perspective, the manufacturing sector's annual global revenue is reported at roughly US$12 trillion.

Despite the growth and new developments in the industry, 3D printing remains markedly more expensive and time-consuming than traditional manufacturing methods. Though more production costs means higher value outputs, in a market where the same product could be generated faster and sold for less money, the 3D printer can seem obsolete and cumbersome. Despite the higher production costs, situations do arise where 3D printing is preferred. For example, there are personalized objects that can only be made using 3D printing methods, such as customized surgical stents and other personal health models. Situations can also arise where scarcity of resources or the size of the product necessitates experimenting with alternative production methods offered by 3D printers. There is also growing interest in 3D printing technology becoming more accessible to the common consumer, with printers being introduced into schools and households alike.

One need only take a look at some of the recent, notable investments and partnerships in the sector to understand the varied potential of 3D printing. In August 2018, a certified defense vendor in the United States, announced that it had sold two of its 3D printers to certain branches of the U.S. Armed Forces to help with supply chain efficiency and product innovation. In November of last year, a 3D printing company announced their partnership with a non-profit organization working to save the lives of children born with heart defects, to provide surgeons with anatomical heart models for training and research purposes. AM's projected 2019 sales and mounting innovation presents attractive opportunities for potential investment or strategic partnerships with manufacturing industry players looking to expand their product offering.

The author would like to thank Sarah Pennington, articling student, for her assistance in preparing this legal update.


About Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

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