The additive manufacturing revolution is in full stride, flying in aircraft and giving manufacturers a robust tool for design and production
Additive manufacturing (AM) has traveled a great distance from its humble prototyping past. In 2014, it stands on the brink of becoming a serious and potentially game-changing method of manufacturing. AM represents a family of technologies being used by individuals, small groups, and large corporations around the world, making parts for a mind-boggling array of applications.
In the past two years, additive manufacturing and 3D printing-terms that are used interchangeably-have received unprecedented interest from corporations, government agencies, individual and institutional investors, do-it-yourselfers, and mainstream journalists. In hindsight, we believe the tipping point for AM technologies occurred around the third quarter of 2012. A series of articles published by the Economist in 2011 sparked interest worldwide. Also contributing has been the growth of personal 3D printers (those priced at under
Over the past 24 months, the world suddenly discovered 3D printing, even though the first commercial machine became available in 1988. This appetite for all things 3D has continued unabated, and interest has accelerated in recent months.
Several of the largest and most recognizable brands are testing the waters. UPS,
Governments around the world are investing in 3D printing research, development, and infrastructure. Last year,
The investment community has taken a real shine to AM, although stocks from publicly traded AM companies have experienced volatility in 2014. Even so, investors are determined to better understand the products, companies, and trends surrounding this dynamic and intriguing industry.
Rock-Solid Growth in 2013
Despite some uncertainty, the long-term outlook for the AM industry remains very strong. Total revenues from all AM products and services worldwide grew 34.9% in 2013 to
The Sky's the Limit
A big part of that maturation rests with the aerospace industry.
Yet just a few years ago, uncertainty surrounded metal AM. Concerns included surface porosity, a lack of full density, and unpredictable microstructure. Today, that uncertainty has all but vanished. AM is producing metal parts that are 99-100% dense. To ensure that parts are free of porosity and 100% dense, companies such as
Aerospace companies are not the only manufacturers embracing metal AM. More than 90,000 acetabular orthopedic implants have been manufactured since 2007. According to EOS, about 19,000 dental copings are manufactured every day using the company's direct metal laser sintering systems. In many ways, metal AM has come further in 10 years than polymer AM has in 25 years.
The AM industry continues to undergo consolidation from mergers and acquisitions.
Acquisitions have had a profound impact on the AM service industry.
New Stocks, Companies, Opportunities
Crowdfunding sites, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have been excellent matches for 3D printing startup companies. Formlabs raised nearly
The range and variety of personal 3D printers, defined as systems costing up to
Where It's All Going
In 2003, the use of AM for part production was a mere 3.9% of the industry's total product and service revenues, according to our research. This important segment of the market has since grown to become nearly nine times larger. The production of parts by AM for final products is growing rapidly because the technology offers unique capabilities to reduce weight, consolidate many parts into one, and improve part usability and performance. When parts are designed-or redesigned-to take advantage of these unique capabilities, AM becomes a candidate for production applications-even for relatively high production volumes, although it depends greatly on the size, type, and finish requirements of the part.
The aerospace, medical, and dental industries were the first to take advantage of these unique capabilities, primarily because low production volumes of high-value parts make AM economically feasible. Final part production with AM is growing beyond this group of bespoke and low-volume industries, and will continue to expand into other industries for new, unanticipated applications. The cost of materials, coupled with the size and speed of machines, will be among the primary drivers in the foreseeable future.
The transition from prototyping to series production presents many challenges, especially in the highly regulated aerospace and medical industries. Even so, companies in these industries are pioneering the use of AM for production because the benefits are so compelling. Manufacturing companies must assure the quality of every AM production part through process monitoring and control and post-process inspection. They must also trace and validate the raw material used for each part, and record the parameter history of every build.
A number of initiatives are underway to meet these requirements. System manufacturers are developing more sophisticated methods to monitor and control key process parameters in real time during the build process. Researchers are creating modeling and simulation software that predicts the behavior of the melt pool, distortion caused by thermal stresses, and the microstructure of finished metal parts.
Historically, industry forecasts from our company have been conservative. We clearly remember the industry's downturn in the early 2000s, and the decline associated with the Great Recession, so we prefer to counter the hype with forecasts based on measurable data and historic trend lines. Even though we are looking into the future through these lenses of conservative realism, we cannot help but be bullish on AM, especially as it grows beyond a prototyping solution into meaningful manufacturing volumes. Suppose AM grows to capture a relatively small percentage of the
Ultimately, many people, companies, and governments will benefit from AM technology, if they are not already. The technology is capturing the attention of some the biggest companies and brands around the world. Using AM to manufacture a seemingly endless range of objects, from bobble heads to jet engine parts, and almost everything in between, is what makes this technology so incredibly exciting. ME
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