Ultimaker has released its 2021 3D Printing Sentiment Index (3DPSI), showing that awareness and adoption of 3D printing went up during 2020, and that companies used it in a more integrated way. While the study doesn’t delve into the reasons behind these developments, Ultimaker anecdotally linked them to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and a disrupted global supply chain.

The 3DPSI covers three broad categories: sentiment, awareness, and adoption. Awareness covers how much people know about 3D printing, sentiment covers whether people feel 3D printing is or will be useful, and adoption covers how much people are already using it at their workplaces.

This year’s 3DPSI was conducted online by independent research firm Savanta in December 2020. It polled 2,525 professionals across diverse fields like healthcare, manufacturing, architecture and education. These professionals came from twelve “key markets” across the world: the US, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Both South Korea and Australia were new this year. 

The 3DPSI surveyed 12 3D printing markets across the globe and ranked their “health” (Image via Ultimaker).

Overall, awareness of 3D printing went up to 71%. Of the people who were aware of 3D printing, 65% of people believed it would become a widespread technology in their industry in the next five years, a 7% increase from the last Index. Finally, 27% of that segment said that 3D printing is an investment priority for their company, another 7% increase.

The 3DPSI also covers “adoption maturity,” or how well-embedded 3D printing is in a company. In the study’s terminology, Champion Stage means that there’s a small team using 3D printing, Competence Center Stage means that there is a good overall spread of 3D printing implementation and knowledge across the board, and Fully Embedded Stage means a well-implemented application, sometimes even across the business. According to the study, the number of people whose companies were at Competence Centre Stage increased by 3% and the number of people at Fully Embedded Stage increased by 2%.

In their press release, Ultimaker suggested that this increase in adoption was due in part to COVID-19.

“Manufacturers across the globe had to quickly adjust when the pandemic shifted their supply chains,” said Jürgen von Hollen, Ultimaker CEO. “From prototyping innovations to printing their own tools to keep machines going, those with an open mind adapted most effectively.”

While the 3DPSI doesn’t actually gather information about why adoption or awareness might have gone up, their results dovetail with popular news stories about 3D printing filling supply chain gaps for everything from medical equipment to filtration equipment to shoes. Significantly, the 3DPSI found that using 3D printing to make end-use parts went up by 5% in 2020, which suggests that companies might have been using printing to cover gaps in the supply chain. In comparison, the use of 3D printing in prototyping actually went down by 8%.

The study found significant obstacles in the way of widespread 3D printing adoption; operational capabilities (67%), employee knowledge (65%), and the difficulty of building a sound business case for printing (40%) limited how much respondents could use printing at work. Print speed and accuracy are still major concerns under the umbrella of operational concerns.

Still, Ultimaker is optimistic about the study’s results.

“The possibilities of 3D printing are truly endless, so it is exciting to see the amazing solutions designers and engineers come up with,” said von Hollen. “We’re very proud that Ultimaker helps businesses ensure continuation, despite adversities, by embracing 3D printing.”