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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Additive Manufacturing

3D Printing: Facts & Forecasts

Although additive manufacturing won’t replace conventional production methods, it is expected to revolutionize many niche areas. Exponential growth is on the horizon.

Market Researchers Predict 300% Growth over the Next Decade

From the user’s point of view, the additive manufacturing (AM) market can be basically divided into two sectors: the market for plastic printers that are now also affordable for private consumers, and the market for professional devices that are used in industry to “print” with materials of all kinds, including ceramic and metal powders. Although analysts still consider the additive manufacturing market to be a niche sector, they nonetheless state that it had a volume of up to €2 billion in 2012. It took the sector 20 years to reach a market value of €1 billion. The second billion was attained only five years later, and analysts now believe that it could grow at least fourfold over the next ten years.

From Prototypes to Mass Production.

Until recently, additive manufacturing was mainly used for rapid prototyping. Prototypes are produced layer by layer in the aerospace, automotive, and machine tool production industries, as well as in the medical and dental technology sectors. According to studies conducted by the Fraunhofer Additive Manufacturing Alliance, approximately 150 companies currently operate in this services market.

Even though analysts at Wohlers Associates expect the rapid prototyping market to grow from $1.5 billion in 2012 to more than $5 billion by 2020, they anticipate the most promising market to be in quite another area. “Money will be made with manufacturing, not with prototypes,” forecasts Tim Caffrey, a consultant at Wohlers. This assessment is shared by Bernhard Langefeld, a machine construction expert at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and one of the authors of the study titled Additive Manufacturing – A Game Changer for the Industry? He thinks industry is already close to the large-scale production stage in the use of AM to create metallic structures for selected products in medicine and aviation. Additive manufacturing is already a reality for making artificial hip joints and crowns for teeth, for example. Using data obtained from scans, manufacturers create custom-fitted implants as unique items. In another sector, Siemens is now printing burner tips from powdered steel for use as replacement parts for gas turbines

Increasingly Efficient Machinery.

In 2013, the MIT Technology Review categorized additive manufacturing as one of the year’s ten seminal technologies. However, AM is still too slow and expensive for industry in general. Thus, AM machines alone account for up to half of associated costs. According to the Roland Berger study, faster machinery will play the biggest role in cutting costs. "Manufacturers are now greatly increasing the machinery’s efficiency,” says Bernhard Langefeld. “The latest generation of machines uses multiple lasers, larger build chambers, automatic changing systems, and improved online monitoring features. Performance can be substantially increased as a result.”

Powders are also a major  cost factor. “Some printing machine suppliers have used the same business model as the manufacturers of inkjet printers,” explains Langefeld. “This means that the companies supply not only the 3D printers but also the appropriate cartridges, which in this case contain specialized powder. “However, the market analysis conducted for the Roland Berger study showed that experienced operators of several machines had already created their own supply systems, and this led to considerable cost savings. In the study, Langefeld therefore came to the conclusion that the manufacturing costs of printed metallic products will probably be cut in half over the next five years and decline by another 30 percent in the five years after that. This assumes, however, that the current average build rate will increase eightfold over the next ten years.

Heading for Increased Product Lifecycle Leverage.

However, market researchers do not expect AM to replace conventional manufacturing processes. It will instead establish itself in niche sectors involving similar parts with minimal differences. Examples include precisely tailored teeth and dental crowns, hip joints, and skull implants.,  Additive manufacturing also allows companies from all industries to design products in such a way that the products  can do things that conventional  ones can’t. That’s why there is also great potential in the use of new materials. For example, AM could conceivably be used for alloys, for precious metals, and for products in which different sections are “printed” with different materials. Such products could include a material that provides heat resistance and another for ensuring stability. Moreover, metals that melt at high temperatures could be used in completely new ways.

As a result, it would be possible to quickly produce exact and customized replacement parts on site when they are needed for individual machines or entire power plants. This would not only eliminate storage and transportation costs but also save money by preventing downtimes. For example, the all-new method for making Siemens burner tips for gas turbines reduces the repair times for certain models by around 90 percent, because the replacement part no longer has to be laboriously welded together. Instead, the burner tip is simply printed onto the body of the burner, reducing repair costs considerably.

Over the long term, this process will allow product lifecycle leverage, as analysts call it, to take effect. “This effect will set in sooner in the aviation industry than in the automotive sector,” says Langefeld. Put simply, a product made by means of additive manufacturing can cost ten times as much as a conventional item if, for example, it consistently reduces fuel consumption by one percent during its entire service life. According to Langefeld, the challenge for the next three to five years will be to identify the products for which this equation is valid.

Sandra Zistl