3D printing in Automotive industry in Japan

Japan is one of the early adopters of additive manufacturing for prototyping purposes in automobile industry. The International Data Corporation, predicts the Japanese 3D printing to grow at CAGR 9.1% between 2017 and 2022. The market for AM is expected to reach $430 million by the end of 2022. Over the time, in a bid to foster its automobile manufacturing capabilities, Japan is likely to spend around $1.8 billion by the end of 2021.

  • Definition / Scope
  • Market Overview
  • Key Metrics
  • Market Risks
  • Market Drivers
  • Market Restraints
  • Industry Challenges
  • Technology Trends
  • Other Key Market Trends
  • Market Size and Forecast
  • Market Outlook
  • Technology Roadmap
  • Competitive Landscape
  • Competitive Factors
  • Key Market Players
  • Strategic Conclusion
  • References

Definition / Scope

3D printing is the process of making solid three-dimensional objects from a digital file. Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing centers around layering materials like plastics, composites and biomaterials to create objects that range in shape, size, rigidity and color. Currently, there are nine basic types of 3D printing. They are termed as:

  • Stereolithography (SLA)
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP)
  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
  • Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)
  • Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
  • Binder Jetting (BJ)
  • and Material Jetting/Wax Casting

Amongst these, the most prominently used are SLA, FDM and SLS. In the 1980s and 1990s, 3D printing was essentially used for prototyping.  Now, there has been a gradual shift in its application from prototyping to into mass production which has many implications primarily for the automobile industry. Earlier, one component parts were made in one corner of the world and then shipped around the world, now these 3D print the parts can be made anywhere as per the requirement. For instance, spare parts can now be created through 3D printers when they need them and companies can simply scan and store the components instead of keeping them for years in warehouses. As the world transcends to the stage of fourth industrial revolution, 3D printing is at the center of this change and is a catalyst to bring about this revolution by enabling total freedom over the manufacturing process.

While, it was Charles W. Hull who invented the early 3D printer using stereolithography technique in the mid-1980s. it was the Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama who had the first record of creating 3D printing technologies through additive process in early 1980s. Since then, Japan has been incessant in the perusal of AM technology given the country’s trend of plummeting population. It is estimated that in the next decade, Japan would witness a dramatic decline of 2 million people. In this regard, 3D printing could help offset this shortage especially in production of automobiles.

Japan is one of the leading countries in terms of 3D printing capabilities and macroeconomic indicators only behind, US, Germany and South Korea. However, there are many emerging challengers such Italy, China and Taiwan, Australia. An IDC report projected 3D printing market growth in the following areas by the end of 2021:

  • Services market is anticipated reach $1.9 billion
  • Material market estimated to be worth $2.8 billion
  • Professional 3D printers’ market is projected to reach $2.1 billion

Market Overview

According to Machine Design, adoption of 3D printing materials by the automotive industry will be worth around $530 million by the end of 2021. it is in accordance to the assessment that the global automotive industry annual sales are projected to hit $114 million by 2024 and the parts and accessories market is likely to cross $17 billion by 2025.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to change the entire value chain for the automotive industry. It enables to do production on site, redesign processes and print on demand. The automotive industry is now designing 3D components for their vehicles which is a positive news for the environment because those parts will be produced only on demand and as it can be made using powder which can be delivered locally and printed out anywhere in the world that saves cost and emissions. As per a study by Keanery, AM save about 6 tons of carbon emissions per kilo compared to conventional methods.  Considering this, manufacturers are now spending average of $400 million on emission reducing components and $200 on safety equipment.

Industrial printers are widely adopted in automotive industry. Automakers are increasingly under pressure to achieve better fuel efficiency and economy to grow revenue and deliver greater value to customers. In this regard, AM enables complex designs that overcome the need for multiple parts and permit weight reduction by making alterations at a structural level. Adoption of such technologies becomes instrumental as vehicle fuel efficiency norms get stricter all over the world.

An increase in the price of the raw materials, stringent regulatory norms and fluctuating global economy have led automobile industry to seek cost and time efficient strategies.

AM has an important role in this process. One of the first manufactures to commercialize the application of AM in the automotive sector was Local Motors. The company manufactured chassis and body parts using 3D printers. Over the years, many companies followed suit for instance, Ford Motor Company employed 3D printers to produce prototypes of resin, silica powder, sand, and metal for the manufacture of its vehicle components. In 2020, Ford saved $18000 in making prototypes for cylinder head water jacket using 3D printing for just $2000 compared to the conventional production which cost around $20000. However, in the same year, Japan’s automotive vehicle production has seen a drop of 20% subsequently leading to drop in demand for 3D printing.

The 3D printing industry is expanding swiftly and becoming more efficient. However, seeing the improvements like shorter supply chains, optimized production, elimination of warehouses for spare parts as well as the adoption of recyclable materials in close-loop system will require fresh investments and time.

Key Market Metrics

Base Year2020
Market StageGrowth
Market Revenues (2028, USD)$430 million
Market Growth Rate (2028, %)9.1%
Number of Companies in the market
Market Concentration (% of market share help by top 3 market players)

Market Risks

Traditional mindset

Japan holds traditional values and are reluctant to apply new technologies or enter partnerships which is impeding the state of 3D printing progress in the country. While they encourage the culture of innovation within the borders, the Japanese engineers appears to be overly cautious when integrating new technologies from outside.

In 2019, a report published by Mckinsey disclosed that Japanese companies are slow at adopting modern IT practices by roughly 5-10 years. This maybe because Japan’s population is somewhat skewed towards the older age so that they are slower at adopting new technologies.

Top Market Opportunities

Japanese Automobile market

Japan’s automotive sector is the major pillar of the country’s economy.  Globally, it the third largest automotive producer in the world. In 2020, automotive manufacturing accounted for 89% of the country’s manufacturing sector. Likewise, as hybrid production techniques of combining the strengths of AM with traditional production methods hold immense growth prospects in country like Japan which seem reluctant to use AM full-fledged.

In view of this fact, AM can be used to make low volume parts such as molds, casts, tools, dies, jigs that can be used to make luxury vehicles or military vehicles. It can also be used for remaking spare parts of older vehicles that are no longer in production.

  • 48% are aiming to be market leaders in fully electric vehicles
  • 37% are investing in high-end, luxury vehicle performance
  • 36% want to be one of the first to mass-produce autonomous vehicles

More EV vehicles

About 50% of automotive manufacturers aims to be a fully electric vehicles (EV) players in the future. This translates to upsurge in the demand of lighter parts and advanced combustion engines, 3D printing is the answer to this burgeoning demand as AM does not have design constraints unlike traditional methods. For instance, in 2019, Local Motors claimed that about 80% of parts were 3D printed, which reduced overall production time by 90%.

Product innovation

AM frees the design restriction associated with conventional product development techniques. AM enables the use of different materials in a single piece with much flexibility and conductivity. Daihatsu collaborated with Stratasys FDM 3D printing technology to build a three-dimensional pattern called Effect Skins, for the front and rear bumpers of Daihatsu’s Copen 2-door convertibles.

Mass customization

Given 3D printing’s toolless production and extreme flexibility capabilities, the automotive industry has adopted this technology for mass customization particularly in the luxury car segment. For example, in 2020, Porsche introduced forty 3D print prototype seats for using on European race-tracks. In the future, the company further plans to personalize the seat to a customer’s specific body contour.

Reduce scarp

3D printing only uses the optimum material to make the part. This can reduce the scrap and save material cost. The ratio of material used in traditional manufacturing is around 20 to 1, this means that manufacturers need to buy 20 times the final usable piece. A study by Deloitte revealed that creating a prototype for an engine costs around $500,000. With the use of 3D printing, Ford developed multiple iterations of the piece in only four days, only costing around $3,000.

AM getting faster and cheaper

Although creating a part of a material through AM can vary by shape, quality or material, however, in 2019, 3D printers on were getting twice as fast as to those available back in 2014. In 2019, the MIT Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity created a printer ten times faster than traditional desktop models and three times faster than a $100,000 industrial-scale system. Unlike traditional manufacturing methods, AM does not require any molds or specific tools. The production process costs the same for either 1 or 1000 3D printed objects, mass-customized products can be 3D printed without any additional costs.

Market Drivers

Shift in the material and method of 3D printing 

The AM industry is shifting its focus from plastic to a trillion-dollar metal fabrication market. The metal segment is expected to hit a CAGR of over 31.4% by 2028. Previously, only selective laser sintering (SLS) was used for metal parts printing. But this process was slow, complex and expensive. So, in 2019, binder jet metal printing was introduced that reduced half the time to produce each part and is now becoming a popular choice amongst the 3D manufacturers.

Apart from new materials there has been profound shift in the methods being used to process these existing materials.  For instance, titanium has a strong appeal in the automotive industry as of its low density, high strength, and corrosion resistance qualities. However, its use is limited because the metal powder produced through current methods is expensive, costing about $200–400 per kilogram. To address this issue, Metalysis has developed a one-step method to produce titanium powder, reducing the cost by 75%. Jaguar Land Rover is looking to partner with Metalysis to use the low-cost titanium powder in AM.

First mover advantage

In 2015, Japan accounted for 9.7% of the 3D printing market as it was an early entrant in the field. Today, Japan has become a global leader in metal sintering, which is a hybrid platform for milling and additive manufacturing. Japan has sustained its efforts in 3D printing research and development. Under the direction of the Japanese government, spending Japanese Economy, Trade, and Industry Ministry (METI) granted subsidy to several technical schools and universities and sponsored two-thirds of their expenses in relation to applying AM technology in their schools.

In addition, through 3D printing initiatives such as Technology Research Association for Future Additive Manufacturing (TRAFAM) together with commercial small and medium enterprises, the country holds immense potential to lead the 3D printing space in the future.


The global market share of Japan in the 3D printer market based on the shipment volume at manufacturers accounts for 3.5%. in 2021, this is likely to decline further to 2% as of the Covid pandemic. However, in recent years, large companies are entering the market driving the overall industry towards innovation. Some of them include HP, Stratesys, GE, Materialise, 3D systems etc. With this, there is rising demand to replace or upgrade into higher-end printers. The revenue derived from using 3D printing by Fortune 500 companies accounted 15% of the 3D-printing industry’s total revenue in 2020.

Market Restraints

Recruitment and retention of talents and capabilities

Japan has nearly 30% of population above the age of 65. An aging population means the number of people of working age is expected to decline from 75 million in 2018 to 69 million in 2030. In 2020, the country had an estimated shortage of 240,000 skilled IT professionals, and that number is expected to rise to 590,000 by 2030.

Engineers and skilled R&D staff take years to develop their skills, making it difficult for companies to replace senior R&D staff as they retire. Besides this, Japan also appears to be poorly positioned to compete for global talent. The country ranks 20th among OECD countries in attractiveness for highly skilled talent owing to longer than average monthly working hours. The average monthly working hours in Japan is 165 which is higher than the overall OECD average of 156.

R&D performance gap

Japan’s annual R&D expenditure is one of the highest in the world. The World Bank estimates Japan spends over 3% of its GDP in R&D activities. However, the country has struggled to derive any significant result out of it. In the past two decades, Japanese firms and research institutions were awarded more than 30% of the global patents annually, now the overall share has shrunk to only 10%. This may be the ramification of fixating on incremental improvement over innovation, gap between product and customer needs, and low levels of collaborative innovation with outside companies and research institutions.

High material cost

Although, 3D printing is a convenient means for production, but it is expensive due to high material costs. This is a major restraint in the otherwise growing AM market. These high costs attributes to higher standards of material purity and composition required for 3D printing. The metal materials for 3D printing cost an average of about $500 per kg, which is expensive to use in general applications as the final product costs proves to be much higher compared to the products available in the market.

Industry Challenges

A study by Statasys revealed that the top two challenges facing the industry is related to cost and finance. The professional users of 3D printing regard manufacturing and equipment costs to be high and post processing requirements and access to materials to be a key challenge today however, they anticipate the case is likely to get better in the future.

Low volume production

Success in automobile industry is associated with production volumes. In 2020 alone, nearly 78 million motor vehicles were produced globally. However, given the enormous volumes, the low production speed of AM is an impediment to its adoption in the process of manufacturing.

Producing large components

Even if large components such as car’s body panels are produced through AM, it still needs to be wielded together. For this, AM technology that supports large build sizes for metal parts needs to be developed. Considering this, Materialise has built SLA envelope of 2100 x 680 x 800 mm to manufacture large components of automobile. It is used only for building plastic panels, a broader adoption into metal and ceramics is the need of the hour.

Intellectual property concerns

As there is no clear boundary at what qualifies for patent protection resulting in proliferation of counterfeit components. In 2016, Gartner reported $15 billion in intellectual property theft due to AM.

Technology Trends

Hybrid manufacturing

Additive manufacturing in automotive industry is not replacing the entire traditional subtractive manufacturing process. However, it is acting an enabler to the legacy manufacturing process by designing complex parts and preparing rapid prototypes. By combining AM with conventional techniques like milling and forging the variability and postprocessing requirements can be curtailed.

For instance, the use of AM allows these parts to have special features such as quick prototyping, embedded components, hollow structures, complex geometries, and multi-material combinations, and the use of subtractive CNC milling techniques ensures uniform finish quality. This is a win-win solution for the automobile manufactures.

Some key players in the automotive industry have already started adopting 3D printing for producing components/parts, such as Porsche manufacturing spare parts for rare and classic cars and Mercedes-Benz Trucks and VW manufacturing components for specific vehicles.

Regulatory Trends

Eco-car tax break

Japan provides tax exemption up to 75% on automobile tax and weight tax for vehicles that qualifies the emission and fuel efficiency standards set by MLIT. In addition, the government offers partial subsidies on the purchase of Clean Energy Vehicle (CEV) to promote lean energy vehicles. As a result, AM is increasingly being used to make such vehicles in accordance to these regulations which attributes about 40% of domestic sales in 2019. 

Technologies such as advanced analytics, robotics, machine vision and additive manufacturing is central to achieving Japanese society 5.0 which is driven by IoT and digital convergence.

In 2014, under the direction of Japanese government, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) provided $38.6 million in funding to support research and development in 3D printers for manufacturing metal products for industrial use. Additional funds were also directed for the advancement of precision AM technology such as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), technology for post-processing and powder recycling, and new 3D measurement devices and image processing software.

Market Size and Forecast

Asia pacific region is one of the fastest growing additive manufacturing hubs. It holds the second highest 3D printing market share of 28% sand had the highest CAGR of 22% during the forecast period 2017-2023. As per International Development Corporation (IDC), Asia’s AM spending was at $3.8 billion for 2019. Amongst the Asian countries, China holds nearly 50% of the market, whereas Japan is catching up with 30% market share. South Korea and ASEAN hold 10-12%, and 5-7%, followed by India and Australia at 3-5% each.

The Covid-19 pandemic is amplifying the significance of digitization with the global supply chain disruption.  More than ever, AM is providing meaningful solutions to the fast-emerging challenges induced by the global pandemic. It is expected that the application of AM will further increase as the Covid crisis shows no sign of subsiding. According to the Acumen research and consulting, the global 3D printing market size is expected to reach $41 billion at a CAGR of around 20.1% over the forecast period of 2019 to 2026.

Impact of Covid-19 on automotive industry in Japan In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has induced recession in Japan. Japan’s automobile exports fell by 22% – the greatest drop since the 2009 recession. According to Al-Jazeera, in 2020, Toyota reported 80% plunge in its annual operating profit, while Mitsubishi reported an even bigger drop of 89%.

Additive manufacturing provides an alternative way to produce goods in a fast, local, cost-efficient and safe way amid the Covid 19 crisis. 3D printing has the capabilities to customise and print with fewer components resulting in less waste which is a boon for the automobile industry. Automotive holds the largest share in Asia-pacific due to AM’s easy applications in the production of end-products such as engines, spare parts, other interior, and exterior parts. As per a study by DSM, AM reduces the inventory cost by almost 80% by producing automobile spare parts (plastics and metal) just as when needed.

The automobile sector is the key growth driver for the Japanese manufacturing industry. The automobile industry employs around 5.42 million population accounting for 8% of the entire Japanese workforce. Japan was the third-largest automobile trader in the world only behind China and US. In 2019, the Japanese automobile production was 9.68 million units and sales were 5.2 million units. In the same year, Japan’s capital investment in automobile manufacturing amounted $1.4 billion and research and spending was $2.7 billion.

As per a study by McKinsey Global Institute, Japan requires nearly a 2.5 times increase in its productivity growth over a decade to maintain its pre-covid positive GDP growth rate. In this context, Japan has instituted an institution termed as Technology Research Association for Future Additive Manufacturing (TRAFAM) as a national project to foster the development of metal 3D printing systems and technologies for producing high value-added products and stabilize the economy.

In 2019, global spending on 3D printing was worth around $13.8 billion and is projected to reach $34.8 billion by 2024 with a growth rate of CAGR 23.5%. In a bid to build smart factories, Japan also appears to be steadily increasingly its additive manufacturing expenditure in the next five years.

Japan was the early adopters of additive manufacturing for prototyping purposes. The International Data Corporation, predicts the Japanese 3D printing market growth to be at CAGR 9.1% between 2017 and 2022. The market is expected to reach $430 million in the same period.

Market Outlook

A research by SmartTech reveals that the global automotive additive manufacturing market was $1.1 million in 2017 and is likely to be worth $5.3 million in 2023. The number is likely to climb further to $12.6 million in 2028, indicating an astronomical growth forecast of 1145% in the course of a decade.

In 2020, prototyping segment led the 3D printing application, accounting for over 55% share of the global revenue. Prototyping is most heavily adopted in automotive, aerospace and defense verticals particularly to design and develop precise parts, components, and complex systems. In additive manufacturing space, the automotive segment topped the market with 23% share of the global revenue in the same year.

3D printing in Japan is increasingly being used for industrial use and less for private use. Experts opine that the private use of additive manufacturing have passed the tipping point and is now in saturation stage. Now, AM is used for industrial processing primarily for large scale production as well as mass production of automotive tools.

With the advent of Covid-19 pandemic, Japanese manufacturers are switching to additive technology to manufacture parts and components. Currently, 3D printing is being extensively used in automotive industry to create design iterations, mass customization, produce tooling parts all the while ensuring quality through cost-effective prototyping which are explained in the table below:

Design and conceptAM is most often used for the aerodynamic testing of new models as of the high detail, smooth and accurate designs and concepts. Considering this, 3D printed scale models are considered superior compared to CAD models in the process of concept and process design while incorporating iterations.
Prototype proof of conceptAM enables rapid and detailed prototyping in the pre-manufacturing stage suitable for validation and testing. For instance, during the preproduction and design process of its products, GM’s rapid prototyping department produced test models of more than 20 000 functional components.
Preproduction sampling and toolingTooling is an expensive act in the process of manufacturing. 3D printing allows automakers to produce samples of molds and thermoforming tools, grips, jigs and fixtures thus saving the cost of failure. According to Ford, developing and creating a prototype for an engine manifold with traditional manufacturing can take up to four months and cost around half a million dollars. However, with 3D printing, the company was able to develop several iterations in only 4 days and 99.4% cheaper – only $3000.
Customized partsAM offers to make tailored interior and exterior designs and modification possible which can bring about substantial improvement in the vehicle performance. For example, BMW customized hand tools for their line production staff. These customized versions are ergonomically designed and are 72% lighter than the original counterparts. According to Deloitte, BMW’s customization of these hand tools helped the company reduce the overall costs and the project time by 58% and 92%, respectively.

Technology Roadmap

A summary of which parts are presently manufactured using different types of AM and which component will be potentially manufactured in the future is shown below:

At present, AM is being used widely used in the prototyping and developing dashboards and cooling vents of the automobile using SLM and and FDM. However, in the future, AM will be extensively used to manufacture and design interiors and exteriors body panels of the automobile using SLS and SLM techniques.

Competitive Landscape

Key Market Players

3D systems

3D systems offer design-manufacturing solutions including 3D printers, print materials and cloud sourced on-demand custom parts for professionals and consumers alike in materials including plastics, metals, ceramics and edibles. The company also provides integrated 3D scan-based design, freeform modelling and inspection tools. In 2014, 3D Systems expanded its partnership with Canon Marketing Japan to include 3DS complete Project professional series of 3D printers, desktop prototyping CubeX 3D printer and Geomagic scan-to-CAD software solutions. Canon Marketing Japan then started selling 3D Systems’ advanced manufacturing products for production grade manufacturing in automotive industry.


Stratasys was founded in Minnesota, US in 1989. It currently has a market cap of $1.132 billion. Stratasys merged with Objet in Israel in 2012 and soon after, the Japanese subsidiary of Objet changed its name to Stratasys Japan in July 2012. The company offers a diverse range of 3D printers from large, high-performance printers for industrial use to ‘prosumer’ printers. Stratasys’ sales figures by country show that the US tops the ranking, followed by Japan, Germany, China, and the United Kingdom. These five countries account for 70% of the company’s global sales. In 2016, Japanese automaker Daihatsu collaborated with Stratasys on 3D printed cars parts yielding 10 different 3D-printed designs and patterns created by Stratasys Fortus printers, which buyers can customize for Daihatsu’s 2-door convertible known as Copen.


Headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, Materialise provides AM software solutions and 3D printing services across industries, including healthcare, automotive, aerospace, art and design and consumer products. Currently, its market cap is $346 million. In 2015, Japanese automaker Toyota was in need of a lightweight car seat prototype with a minimal volume and an optimal heat capacity. This need was met by Materialise using its slicing 3D printing technology resulting in reduced car seat volume by 72%, which meant abridged weight from 25 kg to kg and the heat capacity was also decreased from 35.4 to 14.5 J/K.

Strategic Conclusion

3D printing is transforming the traditional manufacturing market which accounts for 16% of the global economy and paving the way to the fourth industrial revolution. 3D printing is bridging the gap between the manufacturers and consumer by democratizing manufacturing on a global scale and allowing customized products that address the consumers’ needs.

In particular, 3D printing technology is gaining traction in automobile industry owing to its ability to offer accurate and rapid prototyping and time to market. At present, AM is being used in prototyping and developing dashboards and cooling vents by adopting SLM and and FDM technologies. Where as in the future, AM is likely to be adopted to manufacture and design interiors and exteriors of the automobile using SLS and SLM techniques.


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AMAdditive Manufacturing
ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations
BMWBavarian Motor Works
CAGRCompound Annual Growth Rate
GDPGross Domestic Product
J/KJoule Per Kelvin
MLITMinistry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
OECDOrganization for Economic Co-operation and Development
USUnited States

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