Market Insights and Forecasts for 3D Printing Trends in 2023

Read how 3D printing is advancing in materials, production capabilities, sustainability, and artificial intelligence

Parts made using stereolithography
Parts made using stereolithography (SLA) form in a vat of photopolymer resin. A laser hardens the resin to create the parts, layer-by-layer.

The invention of 3D printing grows in importance every day. From humble beginnings—using meltable plastic filaments to make shapes and sometimes parts—this form of additive manufacturing (AM) has morphed into a sophisticated tool capable of building complex end-use parts in plastic and metal with quality that meets or exceeds the needs of most applications. Lately, that growth has been geometric, if not exponential. With more advanced technologies and new materials coming online every year, the choice of whether to print parts becomes an easier one. Composite materials, artificial intelligence (AI), and shape-morphing systems offer even more potential applications.

Recently, our digital manufacturing network at Hubs released a trend report exploring this growth. Based on a combination of survey data and extensive research, the report takes the pulse of the global engineering community across many industries at a moment in time when 3D printing has become a mainstream manufacturing option for most companies. The operative word is MORE. More engineers are using 3D printing more frequently for higher volume orders. In fact, 71% of the businesses surveyed used 3D printing more in 2022 than in 2021. This guide provides a glimpse into the current state of 3D printing, but also offers a grounded look at where the industry is heading.

Saving Money with 3D Printing

One of the more significant findings in our survey was that 83% of respondents said 3D printing has helped them save substantial costs in their manufacturing pipeline. Reasons for this include lower prototyping costs as compared to injection molding, for example, which requires a new tool for every iteration. Quick-turn complex parts also lead to reduced inventory costs. In some cases, in-house printing leads to lower costs, too, though industrial grade printers require a substantial upfront outlay of funds.

FDM Remains Popular

More than half of our survey respondents indicated that fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most frequently used additive technology. That’s not terribly surprising as it is one of the more established 3D printing methods, having been invented in 1988. You can attribute this, in part, to the fact that it is available as a desktop unit, suitable for basic prototyping. However, industrial FDM will get you more accurate and durable parts that use industrial grade materials and deliver them faster.

Growth in 3D Printing Economy

In 2023 alone, analysts predict a 17% increase in market growth for this manufacturing sector compared to 2022. In raw figures, that equals an additional $19.9 billion in income made via 3D printing. Major industries such as aerospace, automotive, defense, energy, and medical have all discovered how 3D printing permits rapid prototyping and is also the easiest way to produce parts with complex geometries.

Larger Runs

One of the strongest indicators of growth in the 3D printing industry is the increased size of each order. 3D printing began as mostly a hobbyist and prototyping technology, but now it’s a viable medium of production quantities. Roughly three-quarters of businesses produced 10-plus parts in their production runs, up from 49% in 2021. This represents a significant shift in mindset for companies involved in parts production.

WAAM 5-axis wire arc additive manufacturing
WAAM 5-axis wire arc additive manufacturing for large metal parts. Source: GEFERTEC

Recent Technology Trends and Advances in 3D Printing

The overall innovation in 3D printing makes it hard to believe this momentum will slow any time soon. From the hardware to the software and the automation throughout, the industry is poised to make major advancements in the years ahead.

There have been significant hardware advancements in the large-format metal AM space. For instance, SLM Solutions is building a laser-powder bed fusion (LPBF) system with a 1.5-meter Z-axis for the U.S. Air Force. It will use multiple lasers to produce large-scale metal parts and could become the largest laser fusion-based printer in the world. Large-scale composite specialist Caracol is developing a nearnet-shape metal wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) system, which uses metal wire feedstock and a robotic welding arm to create large structures or repair metal parts.

There are also new developments in extrusion technologies. Belgian startup Sculpman has patented a variable nozzle. It uses a rectangular nozzle hole, which can be adjusted to control the layer width throughout the build, resulting in faster deposition rates without compromising quality.

Looking at materials, we see an expansion of the variety of engineering thermoplastics and resins, composites, polymer powders, and metal powders available. Electrostatic discharge (ESD) resins are opening up applications in electronics, damping elastomer resins in wearables, and flame-retardant materials in transport and other industries.

Direct metal laser sintering

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is capable of 3D printing complex and organic part geometries in a range of metal materials

Software developments are driving forward many of the major technology milestones in 3D printing. In FDM, there have been breakthroughs in non-planar printing, with G-code generation software enabling the printing of curved lines to minimize ladder effect, eliminate supports for overhangs, and improve vertical strength.

In an industrial context, automation is top of mind. Print speed, quality, and consistency are advancing thanks to greater process automation, including slicer optimization, smart part orientation, batch layouts, and post-processing. Workflow automation is also vital and there are a growing number of software solutions that link and automate the various stages in the 3D printing production chain. A fully automated workflow ultimately enables lights-out 3D printing, with factories that require little to no human supervision.

Broadly speaking, 3D printing has experienced something of a reverse evolution of sorts. It started off mostly as a hobbyist and DIY technology, but the technology has matured and is realizing its industrial potential.

3D Printing Market Growth and Predictions

In 2022, the average estimated market size, which included revenue from 3D printing systems, software, materials, and services, reached $17 billion at an annual growth rate of 13%. Our previous report had predicted a market size of $18.3 billion with an annual growth rate of 21%, based on our internal intelligence and averages of the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) projections from the industry's top 10 market analyst firms.

Bear in mind that most market analyst firms do not report data on an annual basis. As a result, their 2023 predictions still rely on a CAGR of 21%. However, considering that the growth in 2022 was less robust than we initially anticipated, we have adjusted our 2023 predictions to reflect a revised annual growth rate of 17%. Based on our calculations, we now forecast a market size of $19.9 billion for 2023.

Our most recent survey from February 2023, involving 1,035 participants, highlights the market growth. The majority of respondents, 71%, revealed they 3D printed more parts in 2022 than they did in 2021, while only 8% printed fewer parts during the same period.

Polymer and Metal 3D Printing Updates

According to the latest report from AM Power, the industrial metal additive manufacturing market experienced growth of more than 20% in 2022 and was valued at more than $3.25 billion. The technology is predicted to grow even further in the coming years with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 30% until 2027. Meanwhile, the polymer AM market is expected to grow at an annual rate of approximately 13%.

Despite the faster growth in the metal AM market, the polymer AM market still generated more than double the revenue of its metal counterpart. This trend is reflected in our survey as well, with polymer 3D printing processes clearly taking the lead over metal 3D printing technologies.

Within each of these printing technologies, we see advanced post-processing options helping drive adoption. Polymer 3D printing, including SLA and SLS, often requires a process such as vapor smoothing to improve the surface finish. An additional post-processing step is also often critical in metal 3D printing. In a recent survey, we learned that more than two-thirds of DMLS customers required some level of surface finishing on their parts. Our acquisition of Hubs in 2021 helped us offer an even more comprehensive online manufacturing solution to engineers, including a variety of post-processing options.

“3D printers have evolved to accommodate large part sizes, fast speeds and a growing library of materials that fit a variety of applications, but post-processing is often a necessary step to strengthen or improve the cosmetic appearance of parts,” said Eric Utley, Protolabs applications engineer. “Fortunately, the innovation we are seeing in these downstream processes is becoming both more effective and automated, greatly increasing the scale of the additive industry.”

3 Major Industries Embracing Additive Manufacturing

Considering 3D printing’s massive growth, let’s take a look at which industries have fully embraced these innovative technologies.


This industry was among the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing. The technology’s propensity for low-volume production as well as its design freedom have created opportunities for aerospace OEMs for years. One of the primary reasons aerospace manufacturers have been so enthusiastic about 3D printing is that it allows them to produce lightweight components, which, in turn, improves aircraft fuel efficiency. Jet engines, structural aircraft parts, and interior cabin components are just some of the parts that 3D printing is used for today.

Aerospace components can undergo design optimization, and larger assemblies can be consolidated into fewer parts. 3D printing also empowers aerospace OEMs to accelerate development and production cycles, eliminating the need for tooling by directly producing functional end-use parts in metal or engineering-grade polymers.

Aerospace maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) providers are also turning to AM to improve operations. In 2022, GE Aviation’s Loyang facility in Singapore became the first MRO site to receive approval for using metal additive manufacturing to repair commercial jet engine components, reportedly cutting repair times in half.


The implementation of additive manufacturing in the automotive industry has evolved substantially over the last three decades. Today, various 3D printing processes are used for rapid prototyping, tooling, customization, spare-part manufacturing, and series production.

Automotive manufacturers, including BMW, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, and Mercedes-Benz, have benefited from 3D printing. Some have found revenue opportunities by bringing to market exclusive luxury products. The Cadillac CELESTIQ, unveiled in late 2022, is an “all-electric, ultra-luxury flagship” vehicle that integrates 115 3D-printed end-use components. It is hailed by GM as its most technologically advanced Cadillac vehicle. Bentley Motors recently became the first automotive brand to 3D print solid gold details for their Batur.

There is also a growing automotive trend to explore 3D printing for serial mass production. This would be enabled by advances in digitalized workflows and automation. BMW successfully built fully automated production lines driven by metal 3D printing. These production lines can turn out 50,000 components per year. The successful pilot project demonstrates AM’s potential for industrial, high-volume production for automotive.


3D printing has helped to advance diagnostic and treatment solutions in the medical sector. The technology is used in the production of patient-specific implants, prosthetics, surgical guides and instruments, anatomical models, dental products, and more. Additive manufacturing allows for easy customization (with a patient’s medical scans being translated into printable models) and can be used for point-of-care production.

The technology provides a high degree of agility. In Ukraine, for instance, there are efforts underway to deliver much-needed 3D-printed custom implants, suture anchors (used for re-attaching soft tissue, like tendons or ligaments, to bone), and other medical instruments to hospitals on the front line.

In the dental segment, 3D printing is now well integrated, particularly vat polymerization, which accounts for 60% of the dental 3D printing share. Dental and orthodontal labs rely on technology to produce custom crowns and bridges, dentures, implants, surgical guides, and more. Many of the leading clear aligner brands use 3D printing to create custom molds for their clients’ aligners rapidly.

Machine learning model for detecting defects. Source: Printpal

AI-Assisted 3D Printing

Additive manufacturing (AM) and AI are revolutionizing their respective fields. 3D printing has transformed manufacturing and design, while AI tools like ChatGPT, MidJourney, and Stable Difusion are changing the media landscape by generating art, articles, and stories with simple text input. The potential for innovation is limitless when 3D printing and AI converge.

Quality Control

Even small defects in components can lead to catastrophic consequences in the aerospace industry. The answer is AI-enabled 3D printers, which can detect errors and correct them before they occur.

“In-print monitoring has huge potential for AI integration,” said Jacob Wilson, regional manager at “We’re already seeing things like Spaghetti Detection [utilizing computer vision and machine learning to detect print failures] becoming increasingly popular among desktop FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) systems.”

Generative Design

The democratization of manufacturing capabilities has been made possible by the widespread accessibility of consumer 3D printers and distributed manufacturing platforms such as Hubs. Nevertheless, the design process still requires a working knowledge of both CAD and slicer software, which can be complex and challenging to learn.

James Bricknell, CNET’s senior editor, envisions AI tools breaking down the barriers to entry in 3D printing. “The significant AI advancement will be in 3D model generation using technologies like ChatGPT. I believe that in the coming years, we’ll witness programs enabling the creation of intricate geometries simply through voice commands.”

Print Optimization

Achieving the right print efficiency and quality demands meticulous fine-tuning of a variety of parameters, such as layer height, infill density, path planning, and support structures. Mark Lamkin, co-founder of FYR Medical, thinks AI can ace this process. “This could be something simple, such as improving layer fidelity, or more complex, like exploring novel combinations of manufacturing methods. Humans are very good at recognizing patterns, but we are slow compared to the speed of a computer.”

Medical Industry-Specific Innovation

3D printing has already proved its value in healthcare with customized prosthetics and medical implants. However, the existing methods can be both time-consuming and resource-intensive. Robin Brockötter, one of our 3D printing experts, believes AI-assisted automation can speed things up. “Specialized AI tools are set to reduce the complexity of the design process, making it easier for doctors and other healthcare professionals to be more involved in the undertaking.”

Looking at the significant transformations that AI has brought about in various fields like art, literature, and software development, it’s reasonable to assume it can also accelerate the developments in 3D printing technology. In addition to making AM faster and more efficient, AI will hopefully make it more accessible and user-friendly, to the point where it’s as easy to use as your everyday office inkjet printer.

Recycled plastic in filament form. Source: Refil

Green by Design: Additive Manufacturing and Sustainability

As we chart the path toward a sustainable future, we must consider the environmental impact of 3D printing technology. While the technology could be optimized for sustainability, particularly in terms of energy consumption, there are several reasons it is continually linked with green initiatives. Here are six of them:

Less Waste

As an additive process, 3D printing generates less material waste than subtractive manufacturing processes, like CNC machining. For powder-based 3D printing technologies, it is also possible to reuse and recycle un-sintered powder for future builds. AI-powered software tools are helping to reduce additive waste by minimizing the risk of failed prints and optimizing CAD designs for the printing process.

Local Production

The ecological impact of manufacturing extends beyond the process itself. Emissions related to shipping are an important consideration. As a digital fabrication method, 3D printing can produce parts locally, eliminating the need for complex logistics and transport. Distributed manufacturing networks such as Hubs can facilitate local 3D printing, by providing access to qualified manufacturers all over the world.


It is possible to use recycled materials for more and more 3D printing applications. There are commercial filaments made from recycled PLA, PETG, HIPS, ABS, and others. Also, there have been a number of creative recycling projects for 3D printing.

The Shape of Things to Come

3D printing has come a long way from its beginnings as sci-fi stargazing. The technology has matured thanks to years of innovation, but it is still only on the precipice of what could be achieved.

Additive manufacturing has already revolutionized numerous sectors, including aerospace, health care, fashion, and food. There has been a significant increase in the number of businesses producing 10 or more parts during their production runs, with the figure rising from 49% in 2021 to 76% in 2022. The primary reasons for choosing 3D printing? Its fast lead times, ability to produce complex geometries, and easy access to the technology.

While at present, more than 20% of the survey participants in the report use 3D printing to produce end-use parts, as the technology continues to evolve towards improved efficiency, speed, and accessibility, we expect a steady growth in the adoption of 3D printing as a full-fledged manufacturing method.

In sum, the tale of 3D printing is characterized by ongoing evolution. Moving forward, we can expect new layers of this agile technology to reshape our world and the way we interact with it.