JEDDAH: The global uncertainty created by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic was a challenging time for many industries. However, for some, such as Zoom or Amazon, it was a blessing in disguise and a catalyst for accelerated growth.
The 3D printing sector also saw a rapid surge in demand.
Dubai-headquartered Immensa Technology Labs reported that its business grew by nearly 400 percent in 2020, as global supply chains were disrupted, and operators scrambled to find an alternative.
“The pandemic was probably one of the biggest propellers for this technology, the year of COVID-19 is the year that 3D printing grew up and became mainstream,” CEO and founder of Immensa, Fahmi Al-Shawwa, told Arab News.
“3D printing saved the day,” he said, adding: “Whether it was in the medical sector, where we started producing components for hospitals to utilize, or things as big as old refineries, where there had been components that failed, and they could not resource the spare parts, we produced them.”
As one of the biggest markets in the region, Saudi Arabia was an obvious target for expansion. In April, Immensa was the first company in the Kingdom to be awarded an additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — license by the Saudi Ministry of Investment.
Immensa launched into the Saudi market in November through its acquisition of two Saudi 3D printing startups, Shakl3D and LayLabs. Shakl3D was established in 2016 and LayLabs two years later. By combining with Immensa, the larger entity is aiming to scale globally and target opportunities in Europe and North America.
“By acquiring their existing setups and investing in what they have started, we can expedite the development of the industrial 3D-printing sector in the Kingdom and provide both teams with the international platform of Immensa,” Al-Shawwa said.
The company has also acquired a 10,000 square foot industrial facility in Dammam and is planning to establish a network of other 3D printing hubs across Saudi Arabia.
3D printing is a production method in which materials such as plastic or metal are stacked in layers to create products. It is also known in the industry as additive manufacturing or rapid prototyping.
Immensa is focused on industrial 3D printing, making mechanical and functional parts for the oil and gas, utilities, power, and water treatment sectors. Al-Shawwa is planning to expand the company’s reach to other sectors and industries.
“We already have our plastics and polymer machinery up and running,” he said, adding that its “metal facility will be operating in the coming weeks.”
As part of its overall strategy, the CEO said he is planning a big investment drive in the Kingdom. “Over the next three years, I think we will be investing significantly.”
According to Statista, the global 3D printing market was valued at around $13 billion in 2020 and is forecast to grow at a rate of 26 percent per annum between 2022 and 2024.
At the same time, in its latest report issued late last year, research firm UnivDatos Market Insights said the 3D printing industry in the Middle East and North Africa was valued at $521.4 million in 2018, which is expected to rise to $1.374 billion by 2025.
“Globally, the adoption of 3D printing is growing at around 30 percent per year. I think what we are going to see in Saudi Arabia is it growing by more than four times that, of 150 to 200 percent per year,” Al-Shawwa said.
Demand in the Kingdom is coming from critical sectors, such as oil, gas, defense, and utilities. These sectors pave the way for other sectors, as other industries are slowly adopting the technology in areas like tooling and injection molding, he explained.
The company boasts eight full-time engineers in Saudi Arabia, with plans to increase that to over 20 this year. Al-Shawwa said one of the reasons for their focus on Saudi Arabia was the availability of local engineers.
“The pool of talent in Saudi Arabia is phenomenal,” Al-Shawwa said.
“One of the reasons why we are shifting to Saudi because we don’t have to rely on expat talents. You can actually rely on local talent.”
Al-Shawwa envisions Immensa eventually becoming a Saudi-American company in the next five years. Its primary base will be in the Kingdom, servicing the rest of the Gulf, which has been the company’s main focus market for the last two years. However, it has recently expanded to the US, which will focus on clients in Asia and northern Europe.