The state of 3D printing

Departments - 3D/Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, as well as intelligent industrial robotics and other software-based manufacturing technologies, are reducing the advantage of lower labor costs. They will eventually change how goods are made.

June 7, 2016

Additive manufacturing, as well as intelligent industrial robotics and other software-based manufacturing technologies, are reducing the advantage of lower labor costs. They will eventually change how goods are made by enabling manufacturing to move closer to consumer markets and eliminating the need to search for cheap labor to produce parts away from the assembly plant. These changes will decrease trade in intermediate goods and components and lessen the need for physical inventories, shortening and simplifying global supply.

Developed regions, especially the United States, Japan,China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Northern Europe, will be the first to develop and adopt 3D printing technologies, and will be the ones to benefit most from the technologies, which will raise productivity and eventually reverse outsourcing. 3D printing will change countries’ domestic policies, as well. For example, China is seeking to end its dependence on foreign technology to promote its own technology sector. Developing nations may not fare so well, as 3D printing and other technologies diminish their opportunities for growth.

3D printing growth opportunities for superior materials

Recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan, “Emergence of 3D Printing Materials” finds that as 3D printing moves from prototyping to end-part manufacturing, companies supplying printing materials will be looking to develop products that are application-based rather than one-material-fits-all. System suppliers and chemical companies have already introduced materials such as polyetherimide (PEI), polyaryletherketone (PAEK), carbon-fiber reinforced grades, and a variety of performance metal powders.

3D printing material suppliers observed that even though the current volumes are low, there is a high demand for technical support from system manufacturers and users, which compels suppliers to place a high cost on their materials. To mitigate costs and raw material challenges, solution suppliers have to look for possible acquisition opportunities based on the product portfolio and market expertise.

Increasing adoption of fused filament fabrication and laser sintering technologies in the industrial and consumer space are driving the demand for plastic filaments and powders, respectively.

3D printing in healthcare to reach $1.2 billion by 2020

According to a report published by IndustryARC, the 3D printing in healthcare market is estimated to reach $1.2 billion by 2020 at a CAGR of 18.3%. 3D printing has begun to flourish in various application areas such as dental, medical implants, and drug manufacturing. The key driving factor for 3D printing in healthcare is the decrease in prices of printers and approval of possible subsidies from governments through research grants.

The 3D printing materials in the healthcare market in 2015 were $308 million, and are dominated by the Americas with more than 60% market revenue share. Asia-Pacific’s market is relatively small, but is growing at a higher rate than the Americas.

3D printing market worth $30.19 billion by 2022

According to a market research report published by MarketsandMarkets, the 3D printing market is expected to reach $30.19 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 28.5% between 2016 and 2022. There is an increase in the demand for desktop 3D printers in schools and universities, allowing students to experiment with practical 3D modeling. There is also a rise in the personal use of desktop 3D printers to develop sculptures, custom avatars, characters, and figurines.

Laser metal deposition (LMD) is expected to be the fastest growing technology in the 3D market during the forecast period, as the benefits of LMD include a reduction of material waste, tooling costs, repair of parts, and lead time, as well as parts customization.

North America is expected to dominate the 3D printing market.

Suspension-based additive manufacturing methods

Researchers from Dresden, Germany, are focusing on suspension-based additive manufacturing methods to create microreactors, bone implants, dentures, and surgical tools. The scientists have made components from high-performance ceramics and hard metals, and are looking for partners to put their technology to real-world use.

Endoscopic surgery could benefit from the multi-material technology. Endoscopes frequently use an instrument to cut open tissue, and then quickly close blood vessels using electric current. To prevent electricity from shocking the patient, the instrument needs high-grade steel and insulated ceramic components.

Ceramic or metallic suspensions rely on a thermoplastic binder that becomes liquid at temperatures near 80°C. The suspensions can quickly cool, and one layer after another can be deposited in sequence. The workpiece is then built up point by point on a platform, allowing different materials to be deposited at the same time via multiple application units. In sintering, finely grained ceramic or metallic substances are heated under pressure, and the temperatures remain so low that the structure of the workpiece does not change.

“We can now build ceramic components that fit the application instead of the production process,” says Dr. Tassilo Mortiz from Fraunhofer’s IKTS’s Materials and Processes business division. “To date, ceramic microreactors have mostly been milled out of plates. Internal and external sealing have always been a technological challenge for this. And there has been the problem of making connections that fit. Now, we can just print them onto the ceramic component during manufacturing in whatever form.”