Fast growth – and big expectations

A world away from the desktop machines used by hobbyists, 3D printing is already being used on a massive scale to turn the economics of manufacturing on its head. Additive manufacturing combines 3D printing technologies with powerful new processing techniques to make it faster and cheaper to produce all kinds of parts – from aircraft components to medical implants. And the 3D printing industry is just getting started. As Tim Greene, IDC's research director for 3D printing says: "Even though there are amazing innovations nearly every day in the way 3D printers are used...we're still just scratching the surface of the potential for 3D printing as an enabler of digital transformation."

Worldwide spending on 3D printing is expected to reach nearly $20.0 billion by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 20.5%.

An evolving and maturing market

As additive manufacturing gathers momentum, the 3D printing market can expect to see rapid growth, thanks to the convergence of several key factors:

  • Technological evolution

    3D printing capabilities have come a long way from the early days of rapid prototyping, and the technology is now widely used in finished part production.

  • Growth in key markets

    Early adopter industries, including aerospace, automotive and healthcare are demonstrating strong demand.

  • Customer expectations

    There's a growing trend across manufacturing to develop customised products to match customer needs more closely.

  • Government investment

    Governments across the world are beginning to fund 3D printing and additive manufacturing research projects and businesses.

  • High-quality materials

    Developments in the quality of industrial-grade 3D printing materials are allowing designers and manufacturers to create more new applications for the technology.

New opportunities for materials suppliers

There are plenty of opportunities for materials suppliers to develop new revenue streams if they can create and market 3D printing materials. There are also opportunities to build strategic partnerships with innovative companies that are finding new applications for 3D printing – applications that could transform the way traditional manufacturing industries work.

Transforming manufacturing with 3D printing

Additive manufacturing has helped revolutionise product design, making it simpler to create highly complex structures that would be all but impossible using traditional ‘subtractive manufacturing'. Adding successive layers of material, rather than machining a block to the required shape, also means smaller quantities of materials are needed – and there's far less wastage. But, like many technologies that companies are using for digital transformation, 3D printing brings a broader business impact in operational efficiency, reduced costs, and greater innovation.

Saving money with decentralised, on-demand production

By removing the need to produce and store large volumes of parts, 3D printing reduces costs, accelerates workflows, and changes the relationship between supply and demand. Instead of storing caches of spare parts for customers at its depots, UPS now 3D prints spares for its customers' mission-critical machines on demand. That reduces the company's inventory and warehousing costs.

Changing the economics of manufacturing with cost-effective tooling

The assembly tools used at manufacturing plants need to change in line with new components, often taking weeks just for initial mock-ups to arrive from tooling vendors. With 3D printing, new assembly tools can be designed, produced and changed much faster. The Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant, for example, now 3D prints assembly tools for new vehicle models in-house, reducing tool development costs by 91% and lead times by 95%. The bottom line? The plant saved €150,000 on tooling in 2016 alone.

Making complex designs simple to produce

Traditionally, more design complexity means higher production costs – but with additive manufacturing that's no longer the case. 3D printing makes it easier, cheaper and faster to produce highly complex designs, enabling product designers and engineers to bring more innovative ideas to life. Designers at Siemens are using the capabilities of additive manufacturing to take advantage of bionic design – using optimised designs based on forms found in nature that took millions of years to evolve through natural selection. In this way, Siemens can make products like its fennel bulb-shaped gas burner tip that feature elaborate designs that would be expensive, slow or even impossible to produce using traditional processes.

Removing the need for economies of scale

One of the key premises of the industrialisation of manufacturing is that the larger the production runs the lower the cost per unit. With additive manufacturing, however, very small-scale production runs have become a cost-effective option. For example, Porsche now uses 3D printing to produce spare parts for vintage models that would be prohibitively expensive to manufacture and store on the scale required by traditional production methods.

Uncovering new opportunities for suppliers

Product owners want to take advantage of the new freedoms of 3D printing, but there's currently a limited choice of materials. To capture a share of this rapidly growing market, suppliers need to develop 3D-ready materials.

But suppliers can't just think about innovations in materials; they also need to consider how those materials will fit with additive manufacturing processes, such as:

  • Fused filament fabrication

  • Laser metal deposition

  • Selective laser melting/sintering

  • Binder jetting

  • Stereolithography

Forward-thinking suppliers are looking beyond the materials, bringing innovative processing techniques to market as well. Norsk Titanium, for example, has developed a rapid plasma deposition technique that it uses to create large structural parts for Boeing aircraft at scale.

Big opportunities in three big markets

The opportunities are there for suppliers who know where to look, and the three biggest markets for additive manufacturing – the aerospace, automotive and healthcare industries – are the best places to start.


3D printing gives aerospace companies the ability to innovate with complex components that couldn't be produced using traditional techniques – and products can be created faster and cheaper. In an industry characterised by short production runs of parts, the on-demand capabilities of additive manufacturing make good commercial sense. And 3D printed components are a big part of the industry's lightweighting efforts to save fuel and reduce the environmental impact of air travel.


3D printing quickly found a home at automotive manufacturers, where it's still used for rapid prototyping. Today, additive manufacturing is used to create customised vehicles, produce on-demand spare parts, and reduce material wastage. But, much like the aerospace industry, it's vehicle lightweighting that really makes the most of 3D printing, helping manufacturers create lighter structures and reduce the number of components by optimising designs without having to worry about production complexity.


While dental applications are the biggest use of 3D printing in the healthcare industry, the technology is increasingly used by medical professionals to create customised prosthetics and medical implants. Surgeons now often rehearse procedures on precise 3D printed models built from scans of patients, helping increase the speed and quality of surgery. And soon, it's likely we'll see 3D printed pills that contain multiple drugs with different release times.

Reaching new customers

There are clearly many opportunities for suppliers to expand their reach with materials for 3D printing applications – but how can they find and attract these new customers? Without insights into emerging applications and areas of demand, suppliers risk missing out on opportunities to grow revenue profitably.

The trouble is, most suppliers use traditional marketing channels, such as trade shows, that only put them in front of their traditional buyers. Trade shows aren't just expensive – they also attract a lot of delegates who aren't in 'active buying mode' (they're networking and maybe even fact-finding, but not buying). 3D printing customers are researching – and even buying – online. They've got access to lots of information, but little in the way of guidance for comparing new materials and selecting the right ones. What's needed is a digital platform for suppliers to reach buyers at the exact point when they have questions they need answered, or when they're actively looking to buy.

The digital route to market

If engineers, designers and product owners are researching online, it's vital that suppliers are, too. There's a need for a digital platform, that allows buyers and suppliers to meet. For the supplier, there are all kinds of advantages:

  • It's always open for business,24/7/365, so buyers all over the world can always find the materials they're looking for.

  • It's more cost-effectivethan traditional marketing channels, such as trade show stands or advertising space.

  • It's a simple way for new buyers to find the right supplier,giving them the guidance they need to make faster, better-informed buying decisions.

  • It's a source of insight for suppliersinto what buyers are looking for, helping them identify the most valuable opportunities more easily.

Creating partnerships

The shift to digital interaction isn't just about finding new buyers – it's also about creating new strategic partnerships. Many materials suppliers can find it hard to position themselves as strategic partners. But by using the data from digital platforms to spot companies in the R&D phase, suppliers can approach them to prototype and test new products using an appropriate material. Suppliers can even invest in co-creation to deepen this relationship as a partner, rather than just a materials supplier, helping increase customer loyalty and develop a reputation for expertise and innovation.

Introducing Matmatch

Matmatch is a materials search engine that links buyers of materials with suppliers. From manufacturing procurement teams and product designers to academics and engineers, Matmatch puts suppliers in front of new buyers looking for viable materials for all kinds of projects. Matmatch streamlines the material sourcing and design process, bringing material selection into the digital age. Using a wide range of search options, buyers can source exactly the right materials for their specific needs – and suppliers can access an expanded pool of potential customers. But Matmatch offers more than just a digital platform. Our materials specialists give buyers expert advice, and the data we gather helps suppliers identify new target segments that may otherwise go unnoticed.

With Matmatch, you can:

  • Establish a new route to market, without a huge marketing outlay

  • Find new buyers who wouldn't normally see your marketing

  • Identify high-quality leads from customers in active buying mode

  • Create strategic partnerships with companies in the R&D phase

  • Uncover emerging trends and find new applications for your products

  • Reinforce your reputation as a trusted supplier and partner

Learn more

If you're looking for the ideal material for your 3D printing applications, search the Matmatch database right now. And if you're a materials supplier, find out more about how we can help you expand your reach and take advantage of emerging opportunities – simply fill in the form below to have an online demo with our team. You can also visit to get more information.

About Matmatch

Matmatch is a material search platform that connects engineers and material suppliers through the most comprehensive materials database in the world. We connect engineers, product designers and procurement teams with the best materials and suppliers for their job. On the supplier side, Matmatch provides an exciting new channel to generate qualified leads, promote materials, and gain market insight.