Sometimes sales numbers can be deceiving, especially when looking at percentages. In the latest press release by Wohlers Associates, they discuss the growth of 3D metal printers. These are mostly machines that use SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) technology to print out actual metal objects. Basically this works by using a laser to melt layers of metal powder to gradually build (print) an object.
The Wohlers report discusses the growth of this market. They compare 2013 with 2012, in which there was a 75.8% growth in the market. However, as impressive as these percentages may sound, the numbers, by themselves, are not all that impressive. In 2012, there were 198 3D metal printers sold, while in 2013 that number jumped up to 348. These are world-wide totals. 348 3D metal printers sold worldwide isn’t exactly what we would consider to be groundbreaking, nor world-changing.
3D metal printers are extremely expensive, and require special safety precautions. They are not printers that would be operated in a home or office. They are printers that are mostly being used by large corporations such as Airbus, GE, and Lima Corporate, in order to print out specialized metal parts.
“Printing in metal is another animal,” Terry Wohlers told Forbes. “Temperatures are much higher, so safety is an issue. Also, removing support material and finishing parts require shop tools such as band saws and grinders, as well as a lot of know-how. Printing in plastic is difficult enough and most consumers will never do it.”
We should probably expect to see an increase of similar proportions over the next few years, with perhaps more and more companies deciding to go the route of 3D printing. However, we appear to be a long ways off from 3D metal printers becoming commonplace for most companies.
Discuss these stats, and let us know what you think. Post in the ‘Growth of 3D metal printers‘ thread on 3DPB.com
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