Polymer 3D printing will be $16-billion industry by 2027

3D printingIncreasing industrialization efforts across various plastic printing technologies will result in $16 billion in industry revenues from the sale of printers and polymer-based print materials by 2027, according to a study published by SmarTech Publishing (Crozet, VA).

The study provides in-depth analysis of the technologies, including material extrusion, powder bed fusion, vat photo polymerization, material jetting and binder jetting processes, as well as materials ranging from thermoplastic filaments, pellets and powders to thermoplastic composites. It also offers insights on four end-user segments—dentistry, biomedical, automotive and aerospace—that SmarTech believes will drive market growth over the next decade.


Technology perspectives

Extrusion-based 3D printing generated more than 41% of all hardware revenues for polymer 3D printing in professional environments in 2017, according to SmarTech. Efforts to industrialize the classic extrusion printing concept are taking shape primarily in two areas: Increasing the isotropic properties and Z-axis strength of parts, and improving the potential for high-throughput manufacturing potential. Companies such as BASF, Stratasys, BigRep, Essentium and dozens more are working to redesign and improve filament extruders, develop thermoplastic composite materials, create multi-axis extrusion systems and focus on high-volume, swarm manufacturing using printer farms, notes the study.

Regarding vat photo-polymerization technology, the possibilities and scope of layer-free photo polymerization continue to push the technology into new realms of direct end-use part manufacturing, according to SmarTech. New, more-reactive resins result in strong, long-life plastic parts of modest sizes. Meanwhile, concurrent efforts to automate pre- and post-processing steps present attractive serial manufacturing capabilities for the near future. SmarTech estimates that within 10 years, nearly 50% of vat photo-polymerization machines sold will feature a layer-free printing architecture.

Powder bed fusion technology for polymers continues to benefit greatly from efforts in metals additive manufacturing using similar processes. Polymer powder bed fusion systems reportedly are now reaping the benefits of industrialization through parallelized machine design to increase productivity, high-temperature processing for material expansion and automated materials handling and post processing. SmarTech expects that shipments of powdered thermoplastic materials to support powder bed fusion markets will ultimately grow to nearly double that of the next closest polymer printing technology by 2027.

End-user markets

While diverse markets will benefit from advances in 3D printing, the report highlights four segments that SmarTech sees as big-time adopters and drivers of the technology over the next decade, Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research, told PlasticsToday.

The dental segment is going to play a big role in the overall printing industry over the next 10 years, and it has already ramped up, especially in the last two years, says Dunham. “We've studied this in-depth and produced our own study of printing in dentistry, but in the context of the broader plastics industry, the dental segment is going to drive a lot of demand for printing materials in light-cure liquid materials, commonly referred to as photopolymers. The applications in this segment are known for their use of increasingly specialized photopolymers tailored to individual dental applications, and there is evidence to support that the entire dental industry, ranging from the laboratory to the clinic/office, will transition over time to embrace 3D printing as the primary means of dental device production,” says Dunham.

SmarTech also looked at the biomedical space, excluding the segments of bioprinting that relate to organ regeneration and pharmacology. 3D-printed anatomical models and surgical guides are seeing tremendous growth, as we have reported in PlasticsToday. “Anatomical models made via 3D printing are going to become a standard for medical diagnostics, advanced training and personalized surgery,” predicts Dunham. “They've already begun picking up velocity over the last few years, expanding out of their main use case in cranio-maxillo-facial surgeries into other more widely used practice areas like cardiology, general oncology and orthopedic care.”

The capability to print custom medical devices, adds Dunham, makes an especially strong value proposition.

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