Wohlers Report 2002

By David Cohn

An independent review from Engineering Automation Report
June 2002 • Volume 11, Issue 6

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Terry Wohlers, the president of Wohlers Associates in Fort Collins, Colorado, recently released the latest edition of the Wohlers Report: Rapid Prototyping & Tooling State of the Industry Annual Worldwide Progress Report. Wohlers is widely regarded as the leading analyst and consultant covering rapid prototyping (RP) and rapid tooling (RT), and his annual report—an extremely comprehensive publication—is considered the definitive analysis of the RP world.

This year’s report, a 250-page study, covers all facets of rapid prototyping, including business, product, market, technology, and applications. Forty-nine professionals, 47 service providers, 25 system manufacturers, and countless others assisted with its development. The 2002 report includes many new sections and a matrix that compares 24 methods of tooling. The softbound publication includes 25 charts and graphs, 23 tables, and 87 photographs and illustrations.

The report focuses on the many facets of rapid prototyping and tooling, including the industries being served, applications, revenues, unit sales, and forecasts. It also provides current information on trends with regard to service providers, advanced approaches to tooling, system manufacturers worldwide, RP stocks, and new developments in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world. The report covers research and development activities, trends in CAD and the Internet, RP materials, medical modeling, and reverse engineering. Wohlers Report 2002 concludes with a review of the future of rapid prototyping, where it is headed, and what to do.

Disappointing Growth

Last year, more systems were installed, more material was consumed, and more applications for the technology were uncovered. “An almost unbelievable number of new technologies, materials, and enhancements were under development in corporate, university, and government laboratories around the world,” Wohlers said. Wohlers goes on to state that all of this activity is exciting and shows tremendous promise, but says that the rate of growth in 2001 was a disappointment. Revenues from products and services were down significantly and machine unit sales were flat. Unexpectedly, even the low-cost 3D printer segment experienced a decline in unit sales.

In terms of worldwide purchases and installations, the U.S. leads with 42.8% of the systems sold, followed by Japan (18.7%), Germany (9.3%), and China (4.7%). In contrast to the steadfast hold the U.S. has on system sales, however, its lead in installations continues to decrease, since establishing a high of 48.9% in 1998.

Despite a decline in overall industry growth, RP users worldwide produced an estimated 3.55 million models and prototype parts in 2001. This is up 18.3% from the 3 million models produced in 2000. An estimated 2.34 million and 1.86 million parts were produced in 1999 and 1998, respectively.

One company alone has produced more than one million parts in less than three years. Using its SLA 7000 machines, Align Technology produces hundreds of thousands of clear plastic aligners for straightening teeth. Since the company does not publish annual production rates, the 2001 total of 3.55 million models does not include those produced by Align Technology.

Wohlers Associates believes that the contrast of growth in part production to the stagnation of system sales is in part due to equipment and material enhancements. These improvements offer higher throughput from the same number of systems. Other factors include improved capacity utilization and growth in the concept-modeling segment of the industry.

The Wohlers Report: Rapid Prototyping & Tooling State of the Industry Annual Worldwide Progress Report is a comprehensive and well organized publication that is useful for any company currently using rapid prototyping and tooling equipment or considering its use in the future, and is highly recommended.