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2023 In Review & Looking Ahead at the Start of 2024

Guy Menchik
Guy Menchik January 11, 2024
January 11, 2024

As a global leader in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) space, Stratasys is well placed to identify key trends across the industrial AM landscape and the industrial sectors that we serve. As we transition into a new year, it is customary to look back at what we can learn from the year that has passed as well as look ahead. Here, I will highlight some of the key trends that influenced the AM industry last year, that will likely continue to feature strongly in 2024.

Across the globe, 2023 was a disruptive year in so many ways. One constant, however, has been that industry continues to innovate and thrive with the global manufacturing sector maintaining a positive growth trajectory. AM continues to play a role in that growth and some key trends that we have identified are contributing to that growth.

Automation 

This is a big one. Indeed, automation is a global trend reaching into every sector and the impact on the AM industry in 2023 was also significant. 

Automation is really an umbrella term – it is actually multi-faceted and encompasses a wide range of further trends and specific areas of innovation and development that are having, and will continue to have, a direct impact on additive manufacturing technologies and their implementation. 

In general terms, automation is enabling process optimization, whereby the AM process itself and/or the entire workflow is more streamlined. In this way, automation technologies are enabling AM processes to become more efficient, with higher productivity gains, as well as reducing production times and lowering overall costs, including that all-important cost-per-part. Automation is also impacting pre- and post-processing disciplines within the AM process chain. Thus, across the entire AM workflow automation is proving to be a key factor for ensuring improved consistency, tighter process control and higher quality output.  

Add Intelligence: Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are two key drivers of automation for AM. These two sub-sectors of automation in particular evolved at an astonishing pace throughout 2023. Some key AI and machine learning developments are being applied to AM processes in plethora ways and in so doing are enabling intelligent machine — and part — optimization. 

For parts, increased computing power and dedicated AI-powered algorithms are generating more accurate simulations that more accurately predict (and therefore avoid) build failure. Likewise, with the AM systems themselves, these technologies can support more effective predictive maintenance that greatly reduces machine downtime and improves overall productivity. As we continue through 2024, AI will likely evolve further with AM applications improving yields and success rates. It will also contribute to more flexible AM systems that will be able to deal with variety and geometric complexity in a better way.  

Automation is also having a direct impact on material handling capabilities for AM, making it faster, easier and safer. Similarly, the automation trend is directly producing some advanced post processing solutions that speed up this notoriously dirty and labour-intensive part of the process chain. 

The pace of change was intense in this regard throughout 2023 and it is unlikely to slow down through 2024. In fact, I would say it is more likely to pick up the pace even more. 

The Continued Transition to Production as Volumes Increase 

Across almost four decades since its inception, 3D printing has traditionally been used for prototyping, which by definition means that part volumes were low, often singular. The increasing speed of evolution of the various AM technologies — together with material development — throughout the most recent decade has witnessed AM become viable for low-volume production applications. Throughout 2023 we witnessed this evolution continuing and picking up speed even more to the point where AM technologies and AM-specific materials (filament / resin / powder) are now transitioning to a viable option for much higher volume production.

Some of the key factors driving this transition include higher performance materials; end-to-end process optimisation, including post processing; improved productivity and efficiency rates; and improved yield, process reliability and repeatability. 

Application performance is a critical issue for end use parts, and it is a driver for the increased growth we witnessed at Stratasys through 2023 via the breadth of rapid, validated engineering grade materials that we have added to our portfolio this year. This has produced a real acceleration in production applications compared with previous years. Another key enabler of performance improvement is the development characterization, that allows part testing with NAIR to ensure reliable and consistent part performance.

Personalization

This will likely as not cause an eye-roll reaction, but bear with me. We are patently aware that ‘personalization’ has typically been promoted as a benefit of AM from the earliest days of the earliest additive technologies. After all, we’ve been there from the start. And indeed, this continues to be the case for providing customised parts specific to the requirements of the end user, whether that is due to a personalised healthcare approach or personal preferences for a wide range of consumer products. It is hard to imagine a time when this will not be true. With that said, a clear trend that has emerged on the industrial front is an intelligent AM customer approach to applications that demand customised AM technologies. This is an increasingly notable trend across dental and medical industries that is spurring customised system development and deployment across other key industry sectors. 

Listening to industry, working alongside them, understanding their specific requirements because a one-box-fits-all approach does not work for them, and developing and integrating technology solutions into a customized system is one way that Stratasys has stayed ahead. 

Sustainability

Sustainability is an inherent part of our purpose at Stratasys, as we understand the unique value additive manufacturing provides for manufacturers across all kinds of industries and sectors. We are addressing the redesigning of products, processes and parts to better benefit people and the planet — we call this Mindful Manufacturing™. This approach to research, design and production calls for a shift in mindset as we unlock the value of AM together with our customers, sharing a commitment to innovation with a reduced footprint. We work internally to improve our own operations, focus on redesigning our machines and we offer our customers metrics to measure their AM implementations to identify the value they capture when they Add Stratasys to their businesses.

Additive Manufacturing often contributes to sustainable strategies, supporting optimized  manufacturing processes and improving supply chains. As a global company, Stratasys is proactively committed to responsible business conduct and has identified four UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are directly connected to our ability to make a significant impact regarding sustainability under the banner of Mindful Manufacturing™. 

We implement an ESG strategy that goes beyond compliance with the belief that ‘doing good’ is good for growing a healthy, long-lasting business.  Our technologies, materials and software enable production that is less dependent on natural resources, that produce less waste and improve supply chains. We know this. Now we are set to collect the data, with our customers, to demonstrate the value AM brings to their business.

This value proposition comes to fruition at different points of the production and product lifecycle, depending on the use case. For example, in aerospace the unique geometries for printing produce parts that are durable and high quality at a fraction of the weight they once were; when implemented on aircraft they significantly reduce fuel consumption. For fashion, we print on-site and on-demand reducing unnecessary oversupply and optimizing supply chains. This is just not possible with traditional manufacturing methods. Our patient-specific healthcare products improve surgery outcomes and save lives. Is there anything more sustainable than that?

Manufacturing is resource intensive, there is no denying that, but there are ways to reduce and/or mitigate resource usage. One recent project that we were involved in at the end of 2023 illustrates how AM can make a difference. The Additive Manufacturing Green Trade Association (AMGTA) commissioned a Lifecycle Analysis Report prepared by Reeves Insight. The report, entitled “Comparative Analysis: Material Jetting vs. Traditional Methods for Designer Luxury Goods” details results following a year-long study of the transition to industrial AM from traditional methods of manufacture for a specific application. Key takeaways from the study include a 24.8% reduction in CO2e emissions, when compared with traditional processes; a 49.9% reduction of stock material across the supply chain, also reducing and streamlining related transportation needs; and 50.0% less material in the resulting 3D printed logo component. The study also revealed savings of more than 300,000 litres of water across the 16,000 components, and a 64% reduction in electrical energy consumption. 

We are hard at work on advancing our internal efforts. We’re not “going green”, rather we are reducing our footprint with renewable energy and continuous improvements across our operations. That said, sustainability is a journey we have embarked on and we know that “what you can’t measure you can’t improve” so we’re doing the work to support our customers, our people and our planet.

In Conclusion 

At the start of 2024, it is impossible to precisely predict how the next 12 months will pan out. Yet, as an organisation, at Stratasys we are confident that our advanced additive manufacturing technologies will continue to be a transformative option for an increasing range of production applications. Our leadership position in the industry is not one that we take for granted and, in 2024, we will continue to build on our decades of success with our customers, listening and working with them to grow their businesses. 

Learn more about the industries we serve.