Where Did the Makers Go?

MakerBot surveyed 1,160 people for its “2022 State of 3D Printing” report. Manufacturing was not a top-five 3D printing use; it was last. What can we learn from the report? Pre-production uses still dominate the market and study survey demographics before applying results.

Professional versus Personal 3D Printing

MakerBot’s report blends the interests of hobbyists and educators (31%) with professionals in several industries (69%). And that’s fair because, after all, while MakerBot’s focus today is on industrial and educational uses, its legacy is in the consumer market. 

However, my clients are 3D printing (3DP) technology providers and industrial users. Fortunately, there are very useful, industry-specific findings in the report. For example, here are the top five applications for six industries with extensive use of 3DP:

Figure 1. Top Five 3DP Applications for Six Industries

ApplicationAverage of Six IndustriesIndustrial ProductsAutomotiveManufacturingHealthcareAerospace & AviationConsumer Products
Concept Models74%73%80%77%53%70%88%
Functional Prototypes68%74%66%72%69%63%64%
Research and Development60%59%48%59%78%52%63%
Manufacturing Aids (1)56%65%52%69%47%52%53%
Fit/Form Check Prototypes50%50%52%59%53%41%46%
Source: “2022 State of 3D Printing,” MakerBot, February 2022; multiple options
Note 1 = Jigs, fixtures, tooling, end effectors, etc.

Pre-production uses dominate the 3DP market, and technology providers must account for that in their unit sales and revenue forecasts as well advertising plans. Design software and workflow software providers have a golden market opportunity today, while hardware and material providers have more modest near-term growth opportunities. In between are the service bureaus and online marketplaces that span the 3DP pre-production and production environments. 

I am encouraged that survey respondents are using 3DP to produce manufacturing aids. These uses are the best, low-risk way to try 3DP technologies and various providers’ equipment and materials with minimal capital investment. Significantly, engineers and production personnel become exposed to and proficient in 3D printing, all with the potential for improved throughput, higher quality, and significant cost savings on conventional manufacturing lines.

I recall visiting Jabil’s facility outside of Detroit during the RAPID conference about three years ago. Two production personnel from the local Ford factory were present, telling us how their 3D printing initiative, which began off-hours, had already saved the company $1 million.

You can see why pre-production uses of 3D printing dominate industrial applications: The benefits in prepping for manufacturing are tangible. However, large-scale 3DP production is at the bottom of the list. While widespread supply chain shortages exist across industries, the idea of using 3DP to support reshoring manufacturing was not an option for respondents to consider: 

Figure 2. What benefits are you realizing by using 3D printing?

Improving R&D57%
Accelerating Prototyping and Design Iterations54%
Printing Complex Geometries / Design Freedom50%
Accelerating Short-run Manufacturing38%
Reducing Dependencies on External Suppliers35%
Faster Time to Market27%
Reducing Manufacturing Waste22%
Reducing Storage and Inventory Costs14%
Enabling Large Scale Production   8%
Source: “2022 State of 3D Printing,” MakerBot, February 2022; multiple options

However, replacement parts, custom parts, and mass production lag significantly:

Figure 3. For Which Applications Do You Use 3D Printing?

Concept Models68%
Functional Prototypes62%
Hobby/Personal Use51%
Manufacturing Aids47%
Research & Development43%
Fit/Form Check Prototypes41%
Replacement Parts40%
Scale Models37%
Low to Mid Volume Custom Production Parts24%
Educational Purposes24%
Mass Production   5%
Source: “2022 State of 3D Printing,” MakerBot, February 2022; multiple options

The low manufacturing result is not surprising. After all, 25% of the respondents were hobbyists, and, as Figure 3 depicts, 51% of all respondents use 3DP for hobby/personal use. Frankly, there are few mass production uses of 3D printing because conventional manufacturing technologies are better suited to stamping out thousands and millions of the same items.

I am encouraged by the 24% who use 3DP for low- to mid-volume custom production parts. MakerBot’s report does not indicate which industries reported utilizing this application. Nevertheless, this is a trend that bears watching for, as it grows, 3D printer and material providers will see their sales improve significantly. 

The Details Matter

As I noted above, my clients are in the 3DP industry as technology providers and industrial users. They have little interest in what the personal 3D printer market is doing, except today’s consumers could be their next generation of employees and customers. A high school graduate exposed to 3D printing at home or school could become an engineer who designs for additive manufacturing, a procurement professional who buys 3DP parts, or a senior manager choosing between conventionally and additively manufactured products.

For those reasons, a report with hobbyists comprising 25% of the respondents, while 22% of the participants work at firms with only 1-10 employees, can still be useful. Unfortunately, most of the survey results blend the hobbyists’ and professionals’ responses. Nevertheless, results that exclude hobbyists, such as the top five applications by industry, are beneficial to technology providers and industrial users. 

Download the “2022 State of 3D Printing” report here, review its findings, and add what you learn to the knowledge and understanding gleaned from other market and technology research reports.

Let me help you look outside the box – Whether you are a new user learning about 3D printing, someone evaluating an investment in additive manufacturing, or a vendor developing new products and services, I am here to assist you. Schedule your free insight inquiry call now at