New Report Finds Rapid Prototyping Market in Slump

Rapid prototyping (RP) sales have gone from bad to worse, according to a new report announced today by Wohlers Associates, Inc. On the heels of a weak 1997, revenues from RP sales and services fell more sharply than in any previous year. This downturn in sales follows years of impressive growth for most of the 1990s, when annual growth of 35-50% was common. The slump in the industry that began in early 1997 has continued through 1998 and into 1999.

In 1998, 22 system manufacturers worldwide sold 990 RP systems, compared to 1,036 in 1997. This marks only the second time in history that unit sales declined to a level below that of the prior year. This disappointing decline compares to growth of 32% for 1997 and 51% for 1996.

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The top three unit sales performers in 1998 were RP system manufacturers Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Sanders Prototype, with sales of 262, 224, and 110 systems, respectively. 3D Systems has lost its leadership position in annual unit sales for only the second time in the past 12 years. 3D Systems continues its lead in revenues—a more important yardstick to many—by a margin of 3 to 1. Also, 3D Systems was profitable in 1998, while Stratasys was not.

"As companies fight for the top unit sales position, 3D printers for concept modeling will play an increasingly important role," said industry consultant Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates. "3D printers have been slow to gain a foothold in the marketplace, but as speed, material, and price points improve, they will help propel unit sales to new levels," he believes. 3D Systems, Stratasys, and Z Corp. have introduced enhanced versions of their 3D printers over the recent past.

Countless benefits of RP abound, with users reporting almost unbelievable time and cost savings from applying this remarkable technology. This is at odds with the stalled growth in the marketplace, and it is causing vast confusion among vendors, customers, service providers, and investors. Some believe the technology may fade over time while many others dismiss the idea. Companies about to make strategic decisions related to rapid prototyping are especially concerned that they might make the wrong decision. Why has the RP market weakened, will it ever recover, and what should a company do in the meantime?

Terry Wohlers answers these puzzling questions in a new publication titled Rapid Prototyping & Tooling State of the Industry: 1999 Worldwide Progress Report. Wohlers has established a tradition of providing high-quality analyses that cover all facets of RP including business, product, market, technology, and applications. The softbound publication includes 28 charts and graphs, 21 tables, and 54 photographs and illustrations in 221 pages. Click here to see the report's table of contents.