Metal 3D printing has been one of the most in-demand additive manufacturing technologies for years. However, because of the technology’s expense, speed and part size limitations it has primarily been used in a handful of low-volume industries like aerospace and biomedical. But thanks to rapidly improving technology and a growing understanding of the process, industrial applications for metal 3D printing have started to rapidly expand. According to a new market research report from IDTechEx that focuses entirely on the metal 3D printing market it has officially become the fastest growing segment of the industry and looks to continue that trend through 2020.
The focus of the 3D printing industry has been trending away from the hobbyist/maker market and onto the industrial and business market for almost two years now, and metal 3D printing is at the center of that. While FDM technology is still the largest segment of the market, and sales continue to rise, they are not rising nearly as quickly as metal 3D printers and materials. The growing demand for metal applications is being driven by the increased use of the technology to manufacture low-volume or individually customized metal parts for advanced engine components and medical implants. According to the report, metal 3D printer sales grew by 48% last year while material sales grew at a rate of 32%. The report’s projections suggest that sales will continue expanding at similar rates of growth over the next 4 years.
The strong growth is being attributed to early adopters of additive manufacturing technology like GE Aviation, which have long incorporated 3D printing into their production workflows. They have used metal 3D printers to produce hard-to-fabricate parts for years, but they are expected to be dramatically stepping up their use of the technology in the coming years. They are currently investing a massive $3.5 billion into additive manufacturing, including facilities that will house multiple EOS M-280 3D printers, where they are expected to produce more than 100,000 fuel nozzles by 2020. Medical applications have also been one of the earliest industries to adopt the technology, and according to metal 3D printer manufacturer Arcam, to date their machines have been used to print more than 50,000 orthopedic implants. Combined, the aerospace industry and the medical implant industry hold 31% of the titanium alloy materials market share.
The report notes that existing industries that already rely on metal 3D printing will continue to expand its use, while new industries and companies are moving quickly to add the technology to their own workflows in order to stay competitive. San Diego-based Argen Digital, the world’s largest manufacturer of dental alloys, successfully expanded their business into digital dentistry a few years ago. Thanks to their 12 Concept Laser Selective Laser Melting (SLM) metal 3D printers they are one of the world’s largest suppliers of the metal substructures used to make custom copings and bridges. German engineering company Siemens has begun using metal 3D printers to manufacture massive gas turbine blades as well as guide vanes for their state-of-the-art power generators. And NASA has announced plans to start 3D printing as much of their next-generation rocket engines as possible, with a goal of 80-100% within the next few years.
Another industry that is starting to quickly incorporate metal 3D printers in their businesses is the jewelry industry. Jewelry production is already a heavy user of stereolithography, DLP and other 3D printing technologies thanks to their ability to produce highly detailed molds, however many jewelers have recently started to just 3D print the jewelry itself using SLM technology. The jewelry industry is very well-equipped to quickly adopt metal 3D printing technology because there are no qualifying standards for jewelry that they need to meet, the industry has already been using CAD software for years and they are already used to finishing, polishing and post-processing raw jewelry. Additionally, the technology is quite cost effective when it comes to manufacturing custom, one-of-a-kind parts or objects with complex geometries. The jewelry industry is already consuming 49% of the market share for gold powder materials.
The 161-page “3D Printing of Metals 2015-2025: Pricing, properties and projections for 3D printing equipment, materials and applications” industry report was compiled by IDTechEx analysts who collected information from 29 companies working within the industry. That includes 10 metal 3D printer manufacturers, 7 metal powder materials suppliers and 10 end-users. This is the first market research report that is dedicated entirely to the metal 3D printing market. You can purchase the full market report directly from Reportlinker. Discuss further over in the 3D Printing with Metal forum at 3DPB.com.