Dr. Bryony Core, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx: “One to watch out for is the adoption of metal additive manufacturing by medical and dental professionals

IDTechEx is a business intelligence firm providing the latest insights on a range of emerging technologies. At IDTechEx, Dr. Bryony Core leads out research efforts into 3D printing technologies, which includes authorship of syndicated market reports and undertaking research on behalf of clients actively leveraging or investigating the technology.

She led out a research on the metal 3D printing market for the forecast period 2018 – 2028. Today, she reveals what she thinks of this market.

Speaking about the market growth of metal 3D printing, how would you compare 2017 and 2018?

The growth in demand for metal additive manufacturing equipment was unprecedentedly high in 2017, with sales of new machines increasing by 30% compared to 2016. 2018 looks set to build on this strong upwards growth trend, with sales already up 42% compared to last year. A lot of this demand is driven by increased awareness of the technology and its unique capabilities: some of the components that have been designed and manufactured by world-leading aerospace and automotive OEMs have really highlighted the possibilities of what can be achieved with additive and sparked the imagination across a range of key industries.

In your opinion, what are the key factors that would foster the development of the metal additive manufacturing market?

Although we have seen some fantastic growth rates in the adoption of metal additive manufacturing, it is still too soon to say that newer, more affordable machines have facilitated this growth. However, with the prospect of slightly more affordable hardware becoming available, such as the extrusion and sintering printers developed by Markforged and Desktop Metal, companies will be empowered to adopt this technology at a lower upfront cost. Additive manufacturing promises to democratize the manufacturing process, but unless you have at least a spare half a million dollars lying around, it’s still out of reach for many.

What are the current obstacles to overcome in the appropriation of metal 3D printing by professionals?

There remain several barriers to the adoption of metal additive manufacturing by industrial users: cost of materials and hardware, limited production capability, an absence of satisfactory non-destructive testing techniques and a skills shortage are but a few of the outstanding issues facing professional users across several industries. However, it is not all bad news and progress is being made to overcome these issues: collaboration across the supply chain from materials developers to hardware manufacturers and software developers is allowing solution providers to address these very real concerns presented by end users.

What are the most demanding sectors of this technology (metal additive manufacturing)?

After several years of experimentation, I think there are two or three key industries that have emerged as pioneering adopters of metal additive manufacturing; the foremost of these in 2018 is aerospace and defense. Innovators such as Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin amongst others, have consistently demonstrated a willingness to fully explore the benefits of additive, producing stunningly complex geometries that are impossible to manufacture with other methods, while simultaneously quietly integrating this manufacturing tool into day to day operations, to the point where there are thousands of printed parts in operation daily. Indeed, GE has recognized how essential this technology will become to the point where they have developed GE Additive to serve both their own internal requirements and that of the industry more broadly. In addition to aerospace, automotive and medical are also recognizing the potential of metal additive manufacturing and are also emerging as key adopters.

According to you, what are the companies that stand out from the crowd?

For me, the companies that are collaborating to address the outstanding concerns of end users are the ones that stand out: we will continue to see headlines generated by the latest and greatest new metal additive manufacturing technology so I don’t think we have to worry about a lack of innovation in this field yet, but we still have a lot to catch up on to make 3D printing competitive to other traditional manufacturing techniques. Companies such as LPW Technology who are addressing material quality concerns, as well as developing material quality control and assurance processes with both customers and hardware developers are absolutely crucial.

Is there a specific application of metal 3D printing that has left a particular strong impression on you?

Although these pieces are frequently “showstoppers” and don’t necessarily represent the day to day reality of additive manufacturing production, the complex lattices and geometries that can be printed to afford bionic, lightweight structures are fascinating to me. The combination of topology optimization software with a manufacturing process unlimited by past tooling constraints to create solutions that solve a customer’s problem in a more intelligent way demonstrates how far we have come, while hinting at the possibilities of what we can manufacture in the future. It also helps that they look really cool!

What can we expect from the market for the year 2019?

Upcoming for next year we can continue to expect explosive growth in adoption rates, as well as the release of printers capable of high-volume production. One to watch out for is the adoption of metal additive manufacturing by medical and dental professionals: this industry is increasingly adopting 3D printing in general and metal additive manufacturing in particular will be a key focus for this industry, particularly for custom orthoses and prostheses.

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