Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant and President of Wohlers Associates, has been covering the 3D printing industry since 1986, the same year that Chuck Hull started the first commercial 3D printing company, 3D Systems. Saying that Wohlers knows about 3D printing is an extreme understatement. He gave the opening keynote, entitled “The Next Frontier in 3D Printing”, at the Inside 3D Printing Seoul Conference & Expo.
According to Wohlers, the last 11 years have seen more advances in the material science and production of metal printing than it has in the last 20 years for plastics. Wohlers Report 2015 asserts that there were a total of 79,602 industrial installations of 3D printers between 1988-2014. During that time period, the U.S. had 38.1% of the world market for additive manufacturing for machines costing $5K and above. Japan had 9.3% of units, China had 9.2% and Germany had 8.7%, while other countries lagged behind.
Between 2007 and 2014, annual desktop printer sales saw growth from a mere 66 units to 139,584 units, according to Wohlers Report 2015. Wohlers believes that the largest growth for desktop 3D printer sales will be for companies and educational institutions, not for home use. The 2015 report indicates that in 2014, 91.6% of sales were for desktop machines and 8.4% for industrial machines, but revenue for 2014 was nearly the reverse, with 86.6% coming from industrial machines and just 13.4% from desktop sales. The figures for these sales were $1.12B for industrial machines and just $173.3M for desktop 3D printers, respectively. As for future growth, Wohlers Report 2015 suggests that total global sales in 2016 will increase to $7.3B, while in 2018 it will be $12.7B, and in 2020 the market is expected to reach $21.2B.
According to Wohlers, FDM clones abound and over 300 brands are sold globally. Some are only sold locally, so it is very hard, if not impossible to find information on how many brands of 3D printers are actually in production. It certainly seems as though more are coming into the market daily. The industry is seeing a lot of diversity in build volumes and processes between various machines. For example, Wohlers highlighted a company named BigRep in Berlin, Germany that produces a very large FDM printer called the BigRep ONE.2, which retails for €39K. The BigRep One.2 has a large build volume; 900mm in the X axis by 1050mm Y and 1100mm Z. It has a resolution of 100 – 1000 microns, dual extruders and can print in multiple materials.
Wohlers also cited HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology, which was released on October 29, 2014. Multi Jet lays down powder and uses a fusing agent to quickly bind and cure the print. It prints in 30 million drops/sec, 25mm across. Multi Jet is very precise and can control the printing process at the voxel level for textures, surface finish, strength, elasticity, electrical and thermal conductivity, translucency, etc.
Wohlers noted that the aviation industry is investing very heavily in additive manufacturing (AM). An estimated 40,000 fuel nozzles are expected to be 3D printed at GE Aviation annually, when the company is in full production. Many of the foreign attendees at the conference flew to Seoul aboard Airbus aircraft, myself included. Airbus forecasts that it will 3D print 30 tons of AM parts monthly by 2018, and the company is seeing significant improvements in parts being produced using AM as opposed to traditional manufacturing. One example that was sited, is an aviation bracket for Airbus. The part was designed to hold 2.3 tons. Testing revealed that it can actually hold 12.5 – 14 tons, but it only weighs half as much as the traditionally designed bracket. Airbus is also printing aluminum sheet metal parts and fuel connectors. There are up to 60,000 3D printed parts on their planes and they are mostly made on the FDM Fortus 3D Printer by Stratasys.
Other companies that might use AM for aviation and aerospace production parts include BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, General Dynamics, Honeywell Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce and SpaceX.
Wohlers believes that the 3D printing industry is finally getting the attention and prestige that it deserves. America Makes has invested significantly in 3D printing innovation. He noted that the real money in 3D printing is in manufacturing, not prototyping, and that there’s numerous 3D printed consumer products available today. Materialise, which provides 3D printing services and software for 3D printing, is working with Hoet Eyeware to produce eyeglasses and sunglasses. There are many cloud services for 3D printable models, with Trimble 3D Warehouse and Sketchup hosting 2.7 million models.
Wohlers pointed out that the fashion industry is also benefitting from AM. RS Print uses a scanning system that customers walk on that measures foot pressure, allowing them to produce custom fit insoles. Tomorrow, Natacha Alpert will be talking about more innovations in 3D printed fashion.
It seems from Wohlers’ presentation that 3D printing is not only here to stay, but that we will see the industry skyrocket in the next few years. It’ll be interesting to see how well his predictions hold up. More to come from the Inside 3D Printing Conference in the days to follow.
What do you think about where Wohlers sees the industry going? Discuss in the Inside 3D Printing Conference forum on 3DPB.com.