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Metal 3D Printing: Who Will Win the Laser Wars?

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There’s a war raging in the metal additive manufacturing. It’s particularly interesting timing too, given the current state of uncertainty in manufacturing and key end markets like aerospace and automotive as the COVID-19 pandemic rages entering 2021.

The last few months have set the stage for interesting developments for metal additive manufacturing.  The spotlight is back on the metal powder bed fusion market. Specifically, three notable players in metal AM have announced impending 2021 release of massive new platforms featuring double or triple the number of lasers of today’s cutting edge production systems.

In the past six weeks, we’ve seen such systems presented for commercial pre-availability by Velo3D and their Sapphire XC platform, Additive Industries and its MetalFAB-600, and least surprisingly SLM Solutions (whom has been teasing the release of a massive laser-packed platform for several years).

It may be a bit reductive to call this the “laser wars,” because it’s about much more than just additional lasers in AM machines. While there are three companies making headlines today, most laser metal PBF vendors will likely follow suit — or be forced to refine their products and role in the market to focus on applications and markets where such laser-packed systems simply aren’t the right fit. In fact, there are so many implications just under the surface of these announcements, that some analysis is warranted – after all, the future of the metal powder bed fusion market hangs in the balance.

The Market for Large Format Multi Laser Metal Powder Bed Fusion Systems

Large format printing systems in PBF aren’t new, and the trend in this market subsegment has gradually been shifting towards an attitude of “bigger is better” for some time. The X Line from GE Additive (originally developed when the group was Concept Laser) has been in the market for many years and one of the first to move beyond a single laser architecture to dual laser.

As part of SmarTech’s metal additive market advisory services, we’ve tracked and forecasted the metal additive market opportunity in detail for years. The first chart below shows the prior, current, and forecasted market for single laser versus multi laser powder bed fusion systems, while the second chart details opportunities for small and medium build chamber size multi- laser systems versus large and extra large platforms using multiple lasers. PRO logo

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