Although we’ve called this a top 10, it’s not really in any particular order – it’s just a list of 10 of the most well-known and perhaps most highly regarded additive manufacturing or 3D printing companies.
If anything, it’s an impressionistic understanding of the market, taking into consideration size of the company, number of clients and general reputation.
We have not included software-only companies or providers of marketplaces without any hardware of their own – we’ve tried to concentrate on companies which manufacture 3D printers and the materials that they require.
Some of the companies on the list specialise in building the machines that produce the objects while others concentrate on the materials, a critical area of innovation for this technology. One of the companies, HP, is not all that well known for its 3D printers, but is making its mark in the sector.
The main advantage of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is efficiency.
Traditional manufacturing, which can be called subtractive manufacturing, takes, for example, a block of metal has much of its material cut away in order to fashion the finished component.
Additive manufacturing, as the name suggests, is the process by which the component is created by adding layer after layer of material, rather like an inkjet printer would create letters.
Obviously, additive manufacturing requires far less material because there is less of it wasted in the actual manufacturing. Plus all the management systems required to deal with the waste are no longer required.
The main disadvantage of additive manufacturing is that the materials used are still not of the quality as they would be in the traditional process. And the finish is not as good.
This is fine for components which perhaps not many people will see because it’s deep within a larger machine, but when it comes to consumer products, the finish that can be achieved with 3D printers is not quite attractive enough, smooth enough, to make it appealing.
There are ways being developed in which the hallmark roughness of 3D printed objects can be smoothed out using an extra stage of production, and this is probably the long-term solution.
Anyway, here are those 10 additive manufacturing or 3D printing systems suppliers:
We’ve probably left out many interesting companies, but that’s the way with top 10s – you have to make choices.
Shapeways, although famous and popular is more of a facilitator, using HP 3D printing systems, so it’s sort of included on the list indirectly.