Top 15 3D printing stocks from around the world
3D printing is revolutionising the way manufacturing works. We look at the market and outline the top 15 3D printing shares to consider.
What is 3D printing and how does it work?
3D printing creates three-dimensional objects that are designed on a computer. The computer commands the printer to lay down thin layers of material, such as plastic or metal, to build a physical object with precision.
The technology belongs to the world of ‘additive manufacturing’, whereby an object is made by combining many bits of material. Additive manufacturing is one of three ways to make a product. The others are ‘subtractive manufacturing’, whereby an oversized block of material is chipped away and shaped to make something, and ‘moulding’, when the right amount of material is shaped or moulded into a product.
3D printing market: from past to present
3D printing is not a new technology. The first patent related to 3D printing was issued to Charles ‘Chuck’ Hull in 1986. The patented nature of the industry meant development was held back for decades but, since crucial patents expired in 2009 to pave the way for the first home 3D printer to be released (named the RepRap3), the industry has opened up and advanced.
But it was a slow start for the industry. Even though the market had been more accessible for seven to eight years, annual 3D printing revenues for publicly-listed companies grew by just 5% per year in 2015 and 2016 - hardly a figure to get excited about. Even today it is often omitted from the list of technologies that are set to drive the fourth industrial revolution, unlike 5G, artificial intelligence or big data.
But, having evolved, it seems 3D printing is coming into its element. Growth is accelerating and the technology is starting to become an invaluable tool for manufacturers. A slew of new entrants have joined the market and new uses for the technology are still being discovered. Plus, 3D printing is now being used for high-value applications rather than to make prototypes or to experiment. Today, 3D printing is being used to build everything from tiny but crucial components for aircrafts to entire houses.
3D printing market: how much is the industry worth?
The value of the global 3D printing market varies wildly depending on what report you look at, but they all agree growth has started to accelerate and that this trend will continue for at least the next few years.
The Wohlers Report 2018, widely regarded as one of the most insightful annual analyses of the 3D printing market, suggests the value of the global industry rose to $7.3 billion in 2017 from just over $6 billion in 2016. The report, produced by Wohlers Associates, suggests that value will more than double to $15.8 billion by 2020 and go on to reach $23.9 billion in 2022 and $35.6 billion in 2024.
Smithers Pira, a UK-based market research firm interested in the packaging and print industries, believes the industry was worth $5.8 billion in 2016 and predicts it will experience average annual growth of around 23% until 2027, when it could be worth $55.8 billion. It says increased adoption by larger industrial and commercial businesses is expected to contribute the majority of growth, particularly as these firms use them for higher-valued applications compared to those used by hobbyists or small, niche businesses.
More recent data from Statista suggests spending on 3D printing worldwide will amount to around $14 billion this year, with expectations for that to climb to $23 billion by 2022. It believes around half of all spending will be on 3D printers by 2022, with the rest spent on other major inputs like materials, software and servicing.
A report released in late 2018 by Deloitte estimates the value of the 3D printing market to be considerably lower than other reports but this is because it only takes publicly-traded companies into account. Deloitte estimates the value of the market was $2.4 billion in 2018, up from $2.2 billon in 2017 and $1.9 billion in 2016. It forecasts the market will be worth $2.7 billion in 2019 and $3.1 billion in 2020. That is a nominal amount considering about $12 trillion is spent around the world on manufacturing each year, but 3D printing is now comfortably growing faster than the wider industry.
3D printing: why is growth accelerating?
There are multiple reasons why annual growth has broadly doubled from just a few years ago. There is now a wider range of 3D printers capable of building more complex products from a wider array of materials at much faster speeds. In a nutshell, the technology now boasts better economics and can be used for a wider range of applications.
The early days of 3D printing were largely confined to using plastic and polymers. But, according to Deloitte, 3D printers are now capable of producing products using twice as many materials than in 2014. The most significant new material to have been introduced is metal.
'Plastic is fine for prototypes and certain final parts, but the trillion-dollar metal-parts fabrication market is the more important market for 3D printers to address,' according to Deloitte. Plastics are still the most commonly used material in 3D printing but its share of the market declined heavily in 2018, when just 65% of 3D printed products were made from plastic compared to 88% the year before. That is because more companies have started to use better quality materials. Metal is thought to have been used to make 36% of all 3D printed products last year compared to just 28% in 2017. If that rate of adoption continues then metal could overtake plastic as the most widely used material in 3D printing by as early as 2020 or 2021.
What materials are needed for 3D printing?
Those looking to gain exposure to 3D printing should consider those stocks that produce the vital feed material that 3D printers need. Oil refiners and chemical companies make the plastics and polymers, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, polylactic acid and polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified.
The metals come from mining firms and industrial metal companies. Smithers Pira states aluminium, bronze powders, steel, cobalt-chromium compounds and certain titanium alloys are the most commonly used metals in 3D printers at present, although they are likely to start using more types of metal in the near future.
The process of 3D printing was far too slow in its initial years for a world that strives for scale and the ability to make large volumes at fast speeds. Deloitte states 3D printers are, generally speaking, twice as fast in 2019 than they were in 2014 but admits this varies depending on the complexity of the shape, material being used and the quality of the work.
They have also become capable of building larger objects, making it capable of creating more products. A standard high-end printer can now create objects with a volume of up to 27 cubic litres, compared to just one cubic litre from a typical printer in 2014, according to Deloitte.
Some have successfully taken this to the extreme. For example, some companies are using large, transportable printers that can build digitally-designed houses by printing layer-by-layer of cement. Being able to create larger objects is highly significant as it means companies don’t have to print a series of smaller objects and combine them into a final product, speeding up the process and reducing costs.
The amount of companies involved in 3D printing is on the rise. The latest Wohlers report said there are around 177 companies that make and sell industrial 3D printers compared to just 135 in 2018 and less than 100 in 2016. The number of big-name companies experimenting with 3D printing is also climbing, particularly in areas like aerospace, automotive and healthcare.
Airbus, Boeing, United Technologies Group, BMW, Jabil and Oerlikon are among the corporate giants tapping into the benefits of 3D printing, such as being able to make bespoke components on-site or lighter-weight parts. Being able to produce spare parts for an aeroplane or factory equipment is a major advantage as this reduces reliance on suppliers and the need to have components shipped-in and stored.
Smithers Pira estimates businesses spent over $5 billion on industrial 3D printers in 2018 compared to just $400,000 in 2016, while sales of smaller, home-based printers have declined.
The software and data that operates 3D printers is just as important as the printer itself. If 3D printers are to reach their full potential and become fully integrated into wider manufacturing lines, then they need to be fed data to optimise the process from initial design to the end product. If a company is using multiple types of 3D printing or blending it with other types of manufacturing, they will endeavour to make sure they all use the same software and data, which will act as a backbone of the entire operation. This will also require firms to think about how they gather and store data.
How to trade 3D printing stocks
- Research what 3D printing stocks you can invest in and decide which ones to invest in, comparing the strength of each business and their prospects.
- Decide whether you want to invest in the stock, whereby you buy the shares outright, or speculate on future price movement (up or down) by trading derivatives. You can read more about the difference between investing and trading here.
- Open an account with IG to gain access to over 12,000 international stocks, or try out a demo account to try out your strategy risk-free.
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Below is a selection of 3D printing stocks to consider, spanning the US, Europe and the UK.
Top US 3D printing stocks
Autodesk is a $37 billion giant in 3D design and engineering. It sells software that is used by architects, engineers, product designers and construction firms to make 3D digital models. Its technologies allow companies to bring together data throughout the entire production life cycle. This creates the digital backbone for manufacturers and helps improve automation, productivity and accuracy. It also supplies software to the entertainment and media industry that help with visual effects and video game production. Although its software is used for a wide variety of reasons it is one of the largest companies that has a significant interest in 3D printing.
HP is better known for its contribution to computers and electronics but is one of the most formidable players in 3D printing. It makes the number one selling printer for commercial plastics printing and says its Multi Jet Fusion printer is now the most used among industrial companies in the world. HP is diversifying so its printers can use new materials and recently introduced the HP Metal Jet to take 'metal 3D printing from specialised to mass production'. Commercial hardware revenue (which includes its 3D printers but also other hardware) rose 85% in its last financial year, well ahead of overall revenue growth of 12%.
Proto Labs has a variety of 3D printing technologies and is currently the fastest-growing firm that produces prototypes for low-volume components. It says its technologies have 'all been standardised and calibrated to ensure highly repeatable part production every single time'. It provides quotes to customers that upload their own 3D digital models and aims to finesse the design and create the part within 15 days. It also has 'unmatched in-house production capacity' in CNC machining, which is the broader field of using software to control factory tools and equipment and clearly a compliment to 3D printing. It also specialises in other related areas including injection moulding and sheet metal fabrication.
Stratasys is all-in on 3D printing and, after 30 years in the business, describes itself as a 'pioneer' of the industry. The company has several 3D printers that are used to make prototypes, manufacturing tools, and production parts for major industries, including aerospace and automotive. However, it also supplies printing materials and makes a sizeable amount of its revenue from servicing them, giving it broader exposure to the market. It says adopting its 3D printers can reduce manufacturing costs by as much as 83% and speed up the construction of high-end products. For example, it says it has cut the development time for a high-end drone down to eight months from one year.
3D Systems makes a variety of printers capable of using plastic and metal and supplies the materials needed to use them. It also offers the software needed to operate them and produces products on behalf of others. It has a niche in the healthcare sector with printers designed to make dental or surgical equipment. After releasing a wave of new printers last year, it is now pivoting investment toward materials and software. The company is still reporting significant losses.
Top European 3D printing stocks
SAP is a software giant that helps digitally-improve all areas of a business, including supply chain and manufacturing, customer service, cloud storage and analytics. In 2017 it launched SAP Distributed Manufacturing, which connects engineering design and procurement teams with 3D printing service providers. This helps link the supply chain together by bringing together designers, material providers and 3D printing manufacturers. The company is already working with big names like HP, UPS and manufacturing giant Jabil.
Dassault Systemes concentrates on the digital side of 3D printing. It has 11 core applications and services, including 3D CAD to design products, product simulation, data analytics and collaboration platforms that help bring the supply chain together, including designers, manufacturers and material suppliers. 3D printing is only one arm of this business, which ultimately provides software and services that allow digital continuity from the idea of a new product through from design to sales to aftercare. It serves over 250,000 corporate customers in 140 countries. Revenue, net income and its dividend have all risen annually over the five years to the end of 2018.
German conglomerate Siemens is involved in everything from energy to finance and provides physical and digital infrastructure to a wide array of industries. Siemens NX is its software that allows additive manufacturers to control all of their hardware with one software package. It has programmes that let users design new 3D products and to introduce CNC to automate factory floors. A partnership deal means it is the certified software provider to HP’s market-leading Multi Jet Fusion printer. Siemens announced it would be expanding the number of 3D printing machines it had in the UK from 15 to over 50 in the five years to March 2024 after opening its new 'global centre of excellence within the additive manufacturing sector'.
Sika is a Swiss giant that produces a wide array of construction materials, such as concrete, roofing, construction chemicals and adhesives. The company has said some of its key research projects are focused on 'digitalised manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing'. The company is one of the leaders when it comes to utilising 3D printing for large construction work. It has 'mastered' what is needed to 'print concrete on an industrial scale'. It utilises the company’s specially-designed additives that keep concrete flowing through the printer head and to ensure the multiple layers bond together.
Belgium-based Materialise has 'combined the largest group of software developers in the industry with one of the largest 3D printing facilities in the world'. It operates under three segments: one that offers software, one that serves the medical market and one that manufacturers 3D-printed products for others. The company’s most recent quarterly update showed double-digit revenue growth with solid double-digit margins. BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, invested $25 million in Materialise in 2018 as part of a strategic alliance to identify and develop new applications. With BASF, it means it has exposure to all three key areas: printing, software and materials.
Top UK 3D printing stocks
Bodycote is the world’s largest provider of thermal processing services and helps companies improve the characteristics of high value components and parts, such as strength, durability and corrosion resistance. It ultimately strives to help companies add value to the supply chain and works with many industries, from oil and gas to automotive, to construction and transportation. It is currently taking advantage of the downfalls of 3D printers. It says that 'almost all' metal parts made using additive manufacturing, including 3D printing, needs to be treated before it is suitable for use, and it offers services that ensure all 3D-printed products are up to scratch.
Victrex makes polymers that are specially designed for additive manufacturing and 3D printing. It sells polymers in various forms, such as pellets and powders, and also uses them to create a range of semi‐finished products like pipes, coatings, gears and fibres. Its materials have been developed in-house and it has collaborated on additive manufacturing with the likes of Airbus and the University of Exeter. It is the largest producer of PAEK (polyaryletherketone) polymers in terms of capacity in the world and is delivering double-digit growth at both the top and bottom lines.
Versarien engineers new materials and has ambitions to get 3D printers to use its graphene-based materials. In July 2019, it unveiled a new large-scale industrial prototype that could be used in rail infrastructure that had been created using a 3D printer and its graphene. Its specialism in graphene could be huge if it can easily incorporate it into 3D printing systems – the material is over 200 times stronger than steel, so the benefits could be huge considering 3D printers are incapable of producing high-end parts on their own – at least for now.
Xaar is digital inkjet company that makes printing equipment used to print everything from bar-codes or labels on packaging to decorative designs on tiles. It also offers a range of printheads, ink supply systems and drive electronics that are incorporated into 3D printers made by other companies. It aims to make better components that can be easily retro-fitted into existing printers, offering buyers an opportunity to improve their production. However, it established a new business, Xaar 3D, last year in partnership with Stratasys that has developed new 3D printers, prototypes of which should be rolled out in 2019.
ProPhotonix makes LED lights and laser modules, some of which are used as components in 3D printers. Lasers are incredibly important in 3D printers as this is how the printer measures distances, meaning they are vital for precision. They are also used to scan three-dimensional objects in order to create an accurate 3D digital model.
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