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The next big thing: additive manufacturing

Article-The next big thing: additive manufacturing

The next big thing: additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing, now the official term, just might contain the “next big thing” where manufacturing is concerned. Though only 24 years old, the AM industry has grown by leaps and bounds in spite of some fits and starts along the way.

According to Tim Caffrey, an associate of Terry Wohlers at Wohlers Associates Inc., a full 24% of all additive manufactured parts are now in the category of ‘Direct Part Production’ (DPP). Caffrey spoke on Additive Manufacturing for Final Part Production at the RAPID 2012 conference in Atlanta last week. There are several reasons for this growth including more small-quantity custom part requirements, including one-off and “on-demand” components for medical implant purposes such as knee replacements.

Process efficiencies are also driving DPP, noted Caffrey. In particular, part consolidation, which allows several components of a part with complex geometry to be turned into one component. He cited the instance of one OEM that turned 20 different parts and 10 brazing operations into one part through the use of Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) from EOS. And there’s less scrap. “Machined metal parts using subtractive technology means a lot of chips on the floor,” said Caffrey.

It also allows for “tool-less” manufacturing which eliminates one of the pipelines in the supply chain, Caffrey pointed out. “It permits identical process streams for development (prototyping) and manufacturing (Direct Part Production) for end-use parts. AM also means lower costs, permits real-time design revisions and greater freedom of design vs. design for manufacturing,” Caffrey explained.

Potential roadblocks
There are still a number of improvements that need to be made before the industry moves forward, Caffrey acknowledged, such as more material options, better surface quality and improved post-finishing options, and lower-cost systems. One major limitation is the part size most of the systems’ build areas and the manufacturing speed of the systems. “Machines need to be much better if they’re going to serve high-volume manufacturing,” Caffrey stated.
In spite of all that, Caffrey said that DPP is growing and will continue to grow. “New industries are getting to this technology, in particular aerospace and medical, and others are looking at ways to make end-use parts using AM as opposed to current traditional methods of manufacturing,” he said, and projected that “in the next 30 years, 80% of all AM parts will be DPP.”

The big picture
Terry Wohlers’ "State of the Industry" presentation at RAPID 2012 gave a "big picture" overview of the AM industry. Noting that AM is such a young industry—only 24 years old—Wohlers said, “Growth of this industry really caught me by surprise.”

The Wohlers Report 2012, released at the RAPID 2012 conference, shows that the market for additive manufacturing, consisting of all products and services worldwide, grew 29.4% (CAGR) to $1.714 billion in 2011, up from $1.325 billion in 2010 when it grew 24.1%. The AM industry has grown in the double digits for 15 of its 24 years. Approximately 6500 systems were sold in 2011.
The U.S. has 38.3% of all systems installed, followed by Germany with 9.3% and China with 8.6%. “We’re just getting started in the additive manufacturing industry,” stated Wohlers.

Systems are categorized by size and capability and include the high-end, professional-grade, industrial systems, which experienced “soft” sales in 2011, compared to "very strong" unit sales in 2010. However, revenues from system sales were exceptionally strong, said the report. “The average selling price of these systems increased substantially, which accounts for this difference.” Typically, these systems sell for more than $5000 and sales grew by an estimated 5.4% (CAGR) to 6494 units.

Personal 3D printing

At the other end of the spectrum are the “personal” 3D printers, products that typically sell for about $1000 to $2000 and are available as a kit or assembled machine, the majority originating from the RepRap open-source machine development at Bath University in the UK. Personal 3D printer unit sales grew 289% in 2011, with “an astonishing” 23,265 units, which Wohlers said “caught me by surprise at how many of these [personal printers] there are out there.”
However, because of their low price, personal 3D printers represent just $26.1 million of the total market for AM systems sales in 2011. “If the personal systems category continues grow at its current pace, it will quickly become an interesting market segment for system developers and inventors,” said Wohlers.

The Wohlers Report noted that while there are many different names for the various processes developed over the years by AM system makers, the ASTM International Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies voted on a list of AM process category names and definitions. This is an effort to help eliminate confusion about some of the unique process names that AM system manufacturers have developed to differentiate their systems, but share process similarities and materials.

AM industry trends that have come into “focus” over the past 12-18 months include advances in metals, the availability of new design tools, the expiration of key patents, and potentially explosive growth the launching of new businesses related to additive manufacturing. “These trends, coupled with recent growth estimates, provide a sense of where the industry is headed and how organizations and individuals might contribute to the future of the technology,” Wohlers stated. “We believe that we’ll see growth that will result in a $3.7 billion AM industry in three years. Additive manufacturing will develop to become the most important and most used technology ever.”

TAGS: 3D Printing
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