UK businesses account for nearly half (42%) of all online 3D printing in Europe with smaller, technologically-centric firms the most likely to utilise the resource.

This is according to a new report by 3D Hubs, a Dutch company that specialises in online manufacturing services.

The company’s ‘3D Printing Trends 2019’ report, which encompasses patterns from its own order database as well as an independent survey of 400 businesses, found that over 250,000 parts were printed in Europe using its technology last year – more than 100,000 of which went to the UK.

The report found that most firms that use online 3D printing in Europe (75%) have less than 100 employees, with over 60% of the 3D printing demand across Europe coming from engineers working in the development of industrial, electrical, and medical goods.

Aerospace and automotive engineers – early adopters of 3D printing – are less inclined to use online 3D printing services, making up just 10% of the market. This is because they’re more likely to have in-house ‘offline’ 3D printing capacity for both prototyping and production.

Prototyping with 3D printing is universally adopted as there’s an enormous increase in efficiency by being able to talk over objects instead of drawings. Manufacturing of custom tooling is popular on the factory floors of companies like BMW, Ford, and Bosch who use 3D printing to create a new field language.

3D Hubs estimates the global 3D printing market is set to double in size every three years — with investment focused on industrial solutions and applications. From 2013 to 2017, 3D printing grew at a rate of 24.7% on average every year.

For the next five years, the annual market growth forecast by analysts varies between 18.2% and 27.2%, with the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) averaging at 23.5%.

Investment in 3D printing is also rapidly growing. From 2016 to 2017, venture capital funding increased by 86%; in 2018, VC funding exceeded $300million in startups related to 3D printing.

Filemon Schoffer, co-founder at 3D Hubs, said: “It’s great to see that the UK is such a front runner in using online manufacturing services.

“Businesses that outsource prototypes and production parts may be looking to localise this process. Rather than hiring elusive digital talent, however, this is achieved far more efficiently online — helping businesses to control manufacturing overheads and accelerate their R&D.

“Globally, engineers want to receive the same result every time they press print. Ensuring repeatable results has been the holy grail of industrial 3D printing for many years now.

“In light of today’s research, there’s no doubt that 2019 will be the most exciting year for 3D printing on record. 3D printing is destined to find a profitable purpose in the workplace rather than at home — a trajectory comparable to virtual and augmented reality technologies.”