Advances across the 3D printing industry are projecting the disruption afoot

The 3D printing industry is primarily divided into printer manufacturers, material developers, and software platform providers. The significant investment in research & development across the streams to disrupt the conventional manufacturing system and attain a new level of capabilities have compelled industry players to launch new offerings over the years. The increasing democratization of the technology across numerous fields with market participant efforts to escalate the innovation activities is poised to proliferate the industry size. The latest developments in the streams are covered below:

Developments in 3D materials

In the latest scenario, there are more than 1,000 different additive manufacturing materials. Polymers account for over 80% of the total 3D materials. 45% of these materials are utilized for vat polymerization technologies such as Stereolithography (SLA) in comparison to 38% for material extrusion technologies like Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). The rising capabilities of 3D printing technologies to operate efficiently at elevated temperatures is augmenting the demand for high performing material based additive manufacturing products. This is compelling system manufacturers, as well as, material producers to develop and launch new and improved materials. For instance, SABIC, a chemical manufacturing company and, Roboze, an extrusion 3D printer’s manufacturer entered into a partnership to launch amorphous thermoplastic polyimide filament, called EXTEM AMHH811F.

The rising application of 3D materials with a focus on eliminating the gripes such as balancing electrical and magnetic properties is fueling the industry upsurge. In August 2020, Hexcel launched HexPEKK an electrically conductive, PEKK-based thermoplastic manufacturing material, capable of integrating advanced electromagnetic (EM) characteristics within 3D-printed components. The product is formulated to address the radiation absorption, static electricity management, and electromagnetic shielding requirements for aircraft applications. The material further eliminates the requirement of secondary processing steps including the coating application to balance the electricity dissipation, radiation absorption, and electromagnetic interference.

The material is developed for the Defense, Commercial Aerospace, and Military sectors. The EM-based components offer improved operational temperature, environmental, and chemical-resistant performance, a prerequisite for the aerospace industry. The target applications the EM includes leading edges, exterior surfaces, air inlets, cockpit structures, and electronic enclosures for the aircraft.

The 3D material competitors are further introducing high capability materials with improved characteristics while matching industry standards to suffice the demand from the medical industry. Henkel, a chemical manufacturing company, and Nexa3D, an SLA 3D printer’s launched xMED412, a polypropylene-like material for manufacturing a wide range of medical, biocompatible, and wearable devices. It is a durable and high impact, 3D printing material, with mechanical characteristics similar to polypropylene with improved elongation and compression strength. In addition, its lightweight, sturdiness, with inherent insulating properties, intended to withstand moisture, impact, and vibration are significantly driving its adoption across the healthcare industry. In the current prevalence of COVID-19, xMED412 on the NXE400 is increasingly utilized for nasopharyngeal swabs.

Upscaling 3D printers

Hardware manufacturers hold more than half of the additive manufacturing landscape; as numerous players have emerged over the last decade. It comprises of established players as-well-as, start-ups, that are engaged in developing new technologies with upgrading the existing ones. The ongoing evolution across the hardware space is leading to faster and reliable 3D printers that are geared toward different production applications.

Persistent development by the industry players to simplify and efficiency is widening the scope to achieve higher capabilities. ExOne, a leader in additive manufacturing, launched the InnoventPro metal binder jetting system. It primarily comprises two build sizes that include, a 5-liter & a 3-liter, with print speeds of 700 ccs/hour. The upgraded metal binder jetting system is launched with an objective to cater researchers, academics, and system manufacturers, to develop metal parts affordably, quickly, and sustainably. The product comprises of inkjet-printable nanoparticle suspensions, which is integrated to improve the efficiency in critical operations. The nanoparticles fill the spaces between powder bed particles and easily bonds at lower temperatures, enabling the development of stronger green parts. It provides flexibility in 3D printing of large-sized parts with finer features, providing sharper edges and corners. These binders further improve the sinterability and resolution in the metals, such as aluminum and copper.

Moreover, 3D printing is gaining its footprints across aerospace industry. Skyroot Aerospace, an aerospace company launched its 3D printed cryogenic engine that is named Dhawan-1. The rocket engine operates on cryo propellants such as Liquid Oxygen (LoX) and Liquid Natural gas (LNG). A cryogenic rocket engine utilizes liquid cryogenic fuel and oxidizer, which are stored at very low temperatures. The cryogenic temperature operates below -150 degrees Celsius and is used for propulsion technology in the upper stages of rockets.

The 3D printing expansion phenomenon has further covered the construction sector. For instance, in Germany, COBOD a 3-D printing manufacturer is developing a two-story house with walls being built by the concrete 3D printer BOD2. The project is led by PERI GmbH, which is specialized in the manufacturing and distribution of formwork and shoring. The structure consists of triple-layer cavity walls that are filled with an insulating mix. The BOD2 is a certified printer, which, in turn, is enabling construction work in parallel to the printing process. Manual jobs, including the installation of fittings and pipes, which are easily integrated into the printing process, helps saving operator’s time. In the concrete 3D printing sector, the market players are focusing on automating the material extrusion process to offer reliable, fast, and durable solutions.

The surging innovation rate across the industry is anticipated to fundamentally change the outlook of the technology-oriented industries. For instance, UpNano developed a high-resolution micro-scale 3D printing technology. The new technique, based on a 2-photon polymerization process (2PP), is capable of producing plastic parts in large volume with size ranging from 100 to over 1000 cubic micrometers in a few minutes. The technology works on a high-power laser, algorithms, and optimized optical path, capable of smartly-scanning the printing surface. The microscopic scale based parts are widely used in the electronics and medical sector to design high-performance miniature components. The company offers a 2PP process, which is capable of reaching the twelve orders of magnitude.

The company’s patented technology is based upon a series of smart algorithms and an optimized optical path, enabling the full power laser utilization up to 1 Watt. The power allows the fast printing process, especially in adaptive resolution mode. In addition, the algorithms are used to allow the laser spot to be expanded by 10 times, depending on the characteristics of the part, which is attained by changing the lens. The technology enables the easy designing of micro-needles with precision, facilitating easy operations and quick production.

Upgradation in software

Software developments have witnessed simmering improvements in comparison to other 3D printing segments. Though, the software segment is fueling up, instigated by the demand to simplify and streamline 3D printing workflows. The ongoing key advancements in additive manufacturing software are helping companies to faster develop complex designs, with an increase in print success rates while ensuring part quality and managing workflows efficiently.

Thor3D, a 3D scanner manufacturer, launched the Calibry Nest, a scan processing software. The new Version 3.3 offers upgrades and enhanced features including faster texturizing times, device support, and scan manipulation functionality. The Calibry Nest is developed to bridge the 3D scanners and the computer system. The embedded version of the software instigates on start-up and facilitates the basic functions. Its upgraded software comprises of ‘Curvature Selection’ tool that allows user to remove entire surfaces with a single click while improving functionality. Further, the ‘Sections’ function consists of a three-point model dissection system, enabling users to accurately and precisely disassemble complex models into the individual parts and components. In a similar vein, up-gradation in features such as Model texturizing, reduced time requirement from ten minutes to two minutes. Similarly, the ‘Cut on Frames’ feature, simultaneously modifies the raw scan data along with, in turn, improving speed.

Continuing with development and up gradation in software, VoxelDance, a software developer launched the second iteration of VoxelDance Additive, a 3D printing data preparation software. The new version 2.0 features multiple updates that are designed to ease the print preparation. It is compatible with a complete host of different 3D printing technologies including DLP, SLA, SLM, and SLS, and possesses the capability to precisely repair STL file along with intelligent 2D/3D model, which are nested in the build chamber. Moreover, CoreTechnologie, an engineering software developer integrated the STEP file format for version 1.4 of its 4D_Additive print preparation software. The file type is designed to allow CAD file interchangeability among unrelated CAD systems, simplifying the sharing of 3D models.  These upgrades across the domain are anticipated to positively influence the industry landscape.

The growing developments, standardization, and enhanced offerings in the 3D printing industry are leveling the playfield for different sizes of organizations, and, in turn, positioning it as a dynamic sector. In the last few years, the 3D industry is portrayed as an exciting platform, exhibiting numerous opportunities for the participants as well as concerned industries to expand exponentially. The increasing response to the demand with escalating adoption across multiple sectors is paving the way for a vibrant outlook. The rising pace of innovations across different domains, with widening material, hardware, and software choices is set to unlock new possibilities over the years to come.

The article has been written by Harshit Nigam, Analyst at Adroit Market Research, a global business analytics and consulting company. The target audience is a wide range of corporations, manufacturing companies, product/technology development institutions and industry associations that require understanding of a market’s size, key trends, participants and future outlook of an industry.