Market Intelligence Added to the Mix
When ASTM International acquired Wohlers Associates and its flagship publication the Wohlers Report in November 2021, it marked a seismic shift in the field of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing. Positioned to work collaboratively with ASTM’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE), Wohlers will add the most reliable market intelligence available to a world-class standards development effort. The results may change the market.
We recently interviewed Terry Wohlers, head of advisory services and market intelligence with Wohlers Associates, powered by ASTM International. He talked about how he came to be involved in the field, shared his vision for where the acquisition could take both organizations, and even thought about what he might do differently if he had to do it all over again.
Q. What first drew you to the field of science and technology — and later to market intelligence specifically?
A. At an early age, I had an interest in all things technical. I remember building mechanisms and other contraptions with an erector set. At age 6, I was on the roof of a new house my father was building, helping to shingle, although I’m sure I was of little help. My father had a large shop with tools and machines for building wood and metal parts and products. I learned how to use most of them and enjoyed tinkering and building.
As I transitioned from work at a university to the private sector, I was intrigued by market growth figures, estimates, and forecasts in engineering and computer-aided design (CAD). I learned that people, especially the press, had an appetite for market data. About seven years after launching Wohlers Associates, I became more interested in AM market intelligence, which was the genesis of the Wohlers Report. You can find this early work at our website. In 1996, we published and sold the first market study on AM.
Q. The Wohlers Report just published its 26th yearly edition. What factors helped you identify AM/3D printing as disruptive technologies so early on?
A. My interest in AM and 3D printing — terms used interchangeably — developed much earlier than the first publication of the Wohlers Report. In 1987, I learned about stereolithography, the first 3D-printing technology to become commercially available. I first heard about it in a newsletter from Joel Orr, a mentor, friend, and great engineering consultant and speaker.
I contacted 3D Systems, the developer of stereolithography, and the company shipped a full-scale automotive part (distributor cap), video tape, and brochure to me. I was astounded by the polymer part and video. It occurred to me that CAD solid modeling and 3D printing could become a powerful recipe for product development and manufacturing. Almost immediately, I began to spend time learning and trying to understand all I could about the technology and its potential applications.
Joel had a big influence on the direction I took in the 1980s. I saw him as a role model and wanted to consult, speak, and write much like him. To this day, I credit Joel more than anyone else for the launching of Wohlers Associates and the work that followed. I also received a great deal of encouragement and support from my wife, Diane, and it continues to this day.
Q. You must have had many opportunities for partnerships with standards development organizations. What made you choose to partner with ASTM International in particular?
A. In 2009, I was lucky to be a part of the formation of the committee on additive manufacturing technologies (F42). I knew about ASTM previously, but F42 was the motivation to become fully immersed in standards development as chair of the terminology subcommittee (F42.91). I continued in this role for about five years. This experience gave me a much stronger appreciation for the standards-development process and the importance of adopting standards. Since then, we have religiously used the standard terminology for additive manufacturing (AM — general principles — terminology, ISO/ASTM 52900) in the Wohlers Report and in client deliverables, presentations, articles, and conversations.
We were not specifically pursuing a standards-development organization, however. When ASTM expressed interest in Wohlers Associates, it was easy for me to warm up to the idea, partly due to my favorable experience with F42. As we further explored the possibility, it made more and more sense to others and to me. In life, one is faced with making a few big decisions, and this is one I feel good about. In fact, the more I work with ASTM’s AM CoE, the stronger I feel that it is a great fit with Wohlers Associates.
Q. Wohlers Associates is one of the most respected names in market intelligence. What are some of the most important ways this acquisition will benefit ASTM members and customers?
A. Thank you for the nice words. Most people and organizations close to AM agree on its growth potential and the impact the technology will have in the future. For it to progress from an industry of tens of billions [in revenue] to hundreds or more, challenges and obstacles must be overcome. A major one is the development of standards on materials, processes, testing, design, data, the environment, heath, and safety.
With standards, AM can reach new heights in healthcare, consumer products, energy, transportation, space exploration, and other industries. They won’t be reached without the involvement and collaborative work from experts in these fields — for the benefit of their organizations, the AM industry, and future generations.
Wohlers Associates is committed to helping the AM industry develop the talent and resources it needs to contribute to standards development. For growth to occur, credible information based on good data is important so that organizations can make the best possible decisions, no matter where they are in their journey with AM. We want to serve as a guide and compass to companies, the research community, and government agencies in their attempt to navigate toward success with AM.
Q. What kind of synergistic activity do you see taking place between the AM CoE and Wohlers Associates? How do you see the support of the AM CoE positively impacting Wohlers Associates’ capabilities and offerings?
A. The synergy has been there since day one. In fact, I am not sure we could be more aligned. The AM CoE leadership is in full support of continuing, and even expanding, the Wohlers Associates portfolio of products and services. This was a big part of the interactions leading to the acquisition. The people and other resources that the AM CoE is providing to Wohlers Associates are not something we have enjoyed in the past. In the company’s 35 years, I was never interested in expanding to many employees. It’s simply not in my DNA to manage a large group of people. Instead, I focused on the technology, market, and business surrounding AM. With the AM CoE — coupled with the strength, history, and reputation of ASTM International — it is time to grow our capacity, and I fully embrace it.
Q. If you could start Wohlers Associates all over again today, would you do anything differently?
A. Interesting question. In three and a half decades, a person in business makes mistakes, but also learns a great deal. One hopes a startup would benefit from this learning. I would consider our strengths and limitations and explore ways in which we could partner with world-class organizations to help fill the gaps.
A person makes many friends and business contacts over such a lengthy period, so I would explore ways to cooperate to help make the world a better place. The pieces are in place today to get so much more done compared to 35 years ago. I am so incredibly lucky and grateful to be a part of it. ■