By Leotard (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
3D printing has been enjoying a period of increased interest and accelerated uptake in recent years and has been heralded as a game-changer across a broad range of sectors.
Nevertheless, the industry is not immune to the lingering effects of the global economic downturn and as its application is being most widely used in manufacturing, the latest purchasing managers' index (PMI) figures from Markit are unlikely to instil confidence in 3D printing companies.
Doldrums in the UK
According to the Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI, the sector continues to flounder in the doldrums. The headline PMI remains at sub-par level, while output has slipped as new order intakes continue to decline.
The seasonally-adjusted PMI inched higher to 48.3 in March, which is an improvement on February's four-month nadir of 47.9, but the data remains below the key benchmark of 50 and is therefore still in a state of contraction.
Moreover, further investment in new technologies - such as 3D printing hardware and software - could be put on hold for the majority of British companies, as manufacturers remains on a cost-conscious footing last month.
This is due to the further scaling back of purchasing activity and the disinvestment of inventories, in addition to the continued scaling-down of the workforce, as job losses were reported for the eighth-month in a row.
Eurozone downturn deepens
And the picture in the debt-addled eurozone is no rosier, as the crisis-stricken single currency region continues its fight to bring about a recovery.
Manufacturing PMI data in the euro area, according to Markit, retreated to a three-month low of 46.8 for March, which is still well below the 50 mark. Figures lower than 50 indicate contraction and as February's reading was 47.9, this latest report shows the sector is continuing to decline and at a faster pace than before, even if it was better than a flash estimate.
Even eurozone stalwart nation Germany saw its manufacturing sector slip back into contraction, while rates of decline picked up speed across the region with the exception of France.
As with the UK, European manufacturing companies may also be holding of from making investments in 3D printing, as job losses were reported for the 14th consecutive month, indicating businesses are trying to save money to counterbalance the loss of revenue as order books dwindle. Nevertheless, price pressures were subdued, with average output prices and input costs both falling over the month.
Chief economist at Markit Chris Williamson concluded that the report paints "a very disappointing picture across the region, with all countries either seeing sharper rates of decline or - in the cases of Germany and Ireland - sliding back into contraction".
However, the region could be looking east for its recovery, as Mr Williamson noted that strong demand from Asia helped combat continuing weakened demand at home, while US demand also held its ground.