Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'Create more' Business in AEC … A Look Back at 2011

Last year in this blog I made the following predictions for 2011:

What does Professore DeMarco foresee for 2011?
  • Continued strong interest in the AEC community in 3D printing, with spending catching up later in the year to drive market growth.
  • AEC firms doing 3D printing stretching the limits on build sizes to accommodate larger scale models.
  • Software vendors will deliver better tools to make physical models from their BIM software.
  • Reprographic suppliers, now entrenched in 2D solutions, begin to understand the business opportunity for 3D printing.
  • More engineering and construction firms investing in 3D printing (a trend we see in Japan).
  • Continued consolidation in the AEC reseller community with larger firms offering more complete solutions including both digital and physical prototyping.
  • More guest blogs from sharp minds in our community … volunteers?

Let’s look at each of these predictions to see how the ‘Professore’ did …

Continued strong interest in the AEC community in 3D printing, with spending catching up later in the year to drive market growth. With still two weeks remaining in the year (as of this writing), Z Corp. increased system sales into the AEC market segment worldwide by more than 22% (units) and 40% (revenue) YoY. These growth numbers include commercial and educational business for architectural, engineering, and construction firms and schools. The year started out comparable to 2010 in terms of units shipped, but picked up considerably in the second half, especially in Q4 in which sales have almost doubled Q4 of 2010. In addition to healthy growth in new commercial business, we experienced quite a bit of repeat business with customers upgrading from their old workhorse Spectrum Z510 printers to the newer generation ZPrinter 650. We also witnessed a few accounts purchasing more than one ZPrinter 650, and two multinational architectural firms buying ZPrinters for multiple locations. This indicates that 3D printing has become a strategic component in their design processes, not just a tool for final presentation models.

Aside from the actual sales numbers, another measure of community interest this year was the high activity level at trade shows and conferences such as SmartGeometry, ACADIA, RAPID, imagina, BeTogether (Bentley user group), Autodesk University, Revit Technology Conference, ArchiFuture, and the Construction Industry Institute conference. In March, Z Corp. and authorized ZPartner Microsol Resources hosted a panel discussion at The Cooper Union in NY featuring four prestigious AEC firms talking about how 3D printing is used in their respective design processes. Initially, we expected 50 to 100 attendees in the new building auditorium at 41 Cooper Square, but interest level was so high that we had to move the event across the street to The Great Hall where almost 300 people attended!

AEC firms doing 3D printing stretching the limits on build sizes to accommodate larger scale models. As you may have surmised from the higher revenue growth (versus unit growth), we sold more large printers this year; the top-of-the-line ZPrinter 650 became the most popular model, even among the colleges that bought this year. In fact, the ZPrinter 650 accounted for more than half the shipments in AEC -- in 2010, the ZPrinter 650 accounted for a third of the AEC shipments. The ZPrinter 650 total was double the total of the next most popular model, the ZPrinter 350. The primary reason that AEC users prefer the ZPrinter 650 is the large build size (15x10x8 inches). Larger scale models can show more design detail. Also, users can stack up several smaller scale massing models in a single build, thus being able to do quick design studies and concept iterations with the project team, clients, and regulatory boards.
Software vendors will deliver better tools to make physical models from their BIM software. Sadly, this blogger was wrong on this one (or just too optimistic). As the economy trudged through the recession, the CAD/BIM suppliers focused on other areas to improve their digital solutions and differentiate themselves from competitors. Some design tools like Rhino, form*z and bonzai3d already have robust ZPR export which can be read directly by ZPrinters. Many users that I visited in 2011 use these tools for conceptual design before using their BIM tool for design development and CDs. For the most part though, users made do with the tools they knew to help prepare files for 3D printing. On a positive note, the new AMF standard moved forward with approvals, and this will enable users to export more than just geometry (STL format) by adding color, texture, and material properties.

Reprographic suppliers, now entrenched in 2D solutions, begin to understand the business opportunity for 3D printing. Once again, your Professore was overly optimistic. On the plus side, some reprographic houses took on 3D printing as service providers. A few acted as facility managers for architects who wanted ZPrinters installed and operated at their sites. On the down side, most reprographic firms remain entrenched in their existing 2D business model and are reluctant to enter the 3D market.

More engineering and construction firms investing in 3D printing (a trend we see in Japan). This happened in 2011, but not to a large degree. In addition to Japanese firms, we added large engineering/construction customers in Taiwan, Russia, and Canada over the past year. Applications included plant models, site planning, 4D construction, and marketing models for pre-construction sales. Z Corp exhibited at the Construction Industry Institute in July, and there was quite a bit of excitement over the possible uses for the technology in the field. Let’s all stay tuned on this emerging segment within the AEC industry.

Continued consolidation in the AEC reseller community with larger firms offering more complete solutions including both digital and physical prototyping. Well … there was consolidation in the industry, but not so much with resellers as with the 3D printing suppliers. Most readers know that Z Corp. is in the process of being acquired by 3D Systems, the original rapid prototyping manufacturer founded in the late 1980s. 3D Systems has acquired several technology and service suppliers over the past two years, and is well positioned to offer customers a wide breadth of solutions for their design process needs. With very little overlap in products and distribution channels, the combination of Z Corp. and 3D Systems (once the deal is completed) should result in more solution options for AEC, Manufacturing, Education, and other markets going forward in 2012.

More guest blogs from sharp minds in our community … volunteers? Your Professore nailed this one. With a little prodding, we had so many good volunteers step up in this space in 2011, both from the academic and commercial community. The applications for 3D printing were exciting to read about. If you haven’t kept up, please take this opportunity to scan some of the past guest blogs to read what our users are doing with ZPrinting.

If you are one of those sharp minds out there, I am certainly looking for more guest blogs in 2012.
 
http://www.zcorp.com/en/Solutions/Architecture/spage.aspx

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