Latin America’s 3D Printing Revolution
2020 was a year of great change in the 3D printing industry, resulting in adaptations that have allowed us to see the full potential of 3D printing technologies. It was also a year of opportunities and democratization for additive manufacturing technologies, this despite it also being a year of economic setbacks in many industries as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. These new opportunities have translated into a greater adoption of 3D printing worldwide. One area showing great promise for future adoption of 3D printing and its technologies is Latin America. According to several experts, these countries might be able to overcome this health and economic crisis faster than those in other regions, opening a door for the adoption of new technologies such as 3D printing in the near future. However, in order to fully understand the growth that is expected in the sectors in this region the upcoming years, we must first ask ourselves some critical questions. For example, what is the current status of 3D printing in Latin America? Are there already local manufacturers? And importantly, which industries are already working on the adoption of additive manufacturing?
Several economists agree that some Latin American countries will be able to recover more quickly from the 2020 crisis than many more developed countries. These countries could provide an opportunity for foreign companies due to their strong labor force. Currently the strongest economies in Latin America are Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, and growth projections for these countries are positive. According to Forbes magazine: “Continued economic growth, competitive labor costs and proximity to key American markets appear to be factors driving the overall positivity toward Latin America as a viable business destination.”
For some time now, several additive manufacturing companies have had their sights set on Latin American countries. “Latin America represents close to 10 percent of the global population so it is definitely a promising market for any industry, including 3D printing,” said the Photocentric team. Possible changes to the AM sector in 2021 could thus boost its adoption in multiple industries, helping to boost the region’s economy.
How has 3D printing been adopted in Latin America?
Latin America has been slower than other regions to adopt 3D technologies. This is mainly due to the fact that for many companies it requires a significant investment, one that is not easy to achieve without first-hand knowledge of the benefits of its implementation. This translates into a lack of real knowledge of the possibilities that additive manufacturing offers. According to the study Additive Manufacturing: Importance and Challenges for Latin America published by ResearchGate in 2015, only 2% of the current published studies on additive manufacturing technologies came from Latin American countries.
The same study adds: “Latin American countries face significant challenges with respect to the adoption of advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing; among these are limited access to high-value knowledge and inadequate government policies to stimulate strong technological innovation, even though countries such as Brazil and Mexico show the greatest progress in the adoption of additive manufacturing.”
All this translates into a lack of training related to the 3D industry. Currently, one of the ways that is working to fight to remove this barrier is through 3D printing training. According to Irene Presti, Founder of the Argentine Chamber of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing, the educational sector is the one that is adopting the technologies the most, but: “There is a lack of training in all areas. In many schools there is already a printer, the students are the ones who learn and adopt the technology the fastest. But teachers still find it difficult to incorporate it as another tool in the classroom. I think that little by little they will lose their fear.”
The predominant technologies in this part of the American continent are linked to polymer manufacturing, so their use in prototyping predominates in sectors such as automotive, aerospace and medical. Even so, more and more companies linked to metal are beginning to approach these countries, as is the case with Desktop Metal or EOS.
Although the adoption has been slower if we compare it with European countries, companies like Stratasys have had growth of up to 200% in recent years in Latin American countries, thanks to the Additive Manufacturing Hub created in Mexico. “We are sure that additive manufacturing is changing the way of designing, manufacturing, implementing and even selling final products, the effects of the change can be seen from the beginning in the improvement that they achieve in their designs”, tells us Carlos Ramirez Territory Manager of Stratasys Mexico. Growth of this magnitude is without a doubt very attractive for different manufacturers and companies in the additive manufacturing sector.
Currently, Mexico, due to its proximity to the U.S., is the country with the main brands of desktop and professional 3D printers, followed by Brazil and Colombia. In these three countries, the arrival of companies such as HP, 3D Systems, Big Rep, Desktop Metal, as well as renowned desktop machines such as Ultimaker and Formlabs, is notable. There are also local manufacturers, such as Colibrí 3D in Mexico, or makeR in Colombia. One of the countries that has attracted our attention due to the number of existing machine manufacturers is Argentina, which has names like Trideo or Smart 3D that are already making a leap to international.
To promote the growth of 3D technologies, countries such as Mexico or Argentina have created consortiums or chambers that promote support between companies in the sector. This can be seen in the case of the Consortium of Additive Manufacturing in Latin America, CONMAD, which received an investment of more than $ 13 million dollars in 2018 to increase the knowledge and adoption of 3D technologies. In Argentina, there is the Argentine Chamber of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing that since 2016 has worked to democratize technologies in the country.
What can we expect from Latin America in upcoming years?
3D printing in Latin America still has a long way to go, with a lot left to learn and adopt. But, the most important thing is to start training linked to 3D printing, allowing trained personnel to learn how to better take advantage of these adopted technologies. Actions such as the creation of business associations are already a big step, allowing a greater training for companies in knowledge of the possibilities of 3D.
The political changes that are coming to the countries in the next few years, among them the changes in the United States, will reopen the relations between the U.S. and its southern neighbors. Allowing once again grater investment in Latin American industries and opening the way to new opportunities, translating into more innovations in the industry and therefore growth in 3D printing.
There are still a few years left for additive manufacturing to reach full adoption in these countries, the first changes we will see are in the arrival of new materials, management software and greater adoption of metal technologies. The future of 3D technologies will be seen in the southern part of the American continent: “The great advantage we have is that there are highly trained human resources. That is a differential that allows very good projects around these technologies”, concludes Irene Presti.
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