Future of metal 3D printing is bright
Complete overview and projected growth report by IDTechEx Metal Tech News – March 23, 2022
Last updated 3/22/2022 at 1:28pm
After recovering from a short-term downturn for metal 3D printing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, IDTechEx forecasts that the global metal additive manufacturing market will hit US$18.5 billion by 2032.
The market research firm says several factors have come into play to push this burgeoning technology to the foreground, most notably the pandemic itself. The remote and autonomous capabilities of "printing" metal components – oftentimes, in locations where shipping was hindered due to lack of personnel or materials – brought to the light the ease, flexibility, and efficiency of metal 3D printing for many companies.
While ultimately still unable to compete with traditional manufacturing output, 3D printers of all kinds have seen a robust portfolio of styles which have led to an incredibly competitive market in only a few short years.
With a widespread grassroots effort from hobbyists and entrepreneurial startups, 3D printers provided a leg-up for consumers and small business owners to begin manufacturing on their own. However, to compete with typical manufacturing, larger companies have found that the entry price for a metal 3D printer that would meet their needs is too high and thus not cost-effective.
Yet, a silver lining for the additive manufacturing industry was in its potential to develop precision parts in nearly any permutation that could be designed using 3D rending software. However, this too was primarily used in more niche projects.
Nonetheless, the possibilities were already seen, prompting several companies to begin developing powerful, entry-level printers that could not only match conventional manufacturing but sometimes surpass it.
Printers for established technologies like laser powder bed fusion or electron beam melting often cost anywhere from US$300,000 to $500,000, with many even exceeding US$1 million.
The high investment needed to engage in metal 3D printing has created a high barrier to entry for small and mid-sized enterprises. To lower this barrier to adoption, several companies like Xact Metal and One Click Metal have focused on making printers more affordable with price tags less than US$100,000.
While Xact Metal and One Click both utilize powder bed fusion techniques, there exist at least half a dozen different methods that have been developed to 3D print with metal – binder jetting, directed energy deposition (DED) blown powder, DED wire, extrusion or metal-polymer filament extrusion, vat photopolymerization, the list will most likely grow as the popularity and adoption of 3D metal printing becomes more mainstream and the cost-effectiveness and capability eventually replaces current manufacturing outputs.
As for all these technologies, numerous companies have begun working on developing their unique brand and specialization, providing powerful printers that have already seen use in aviation, military, vehicle manufacturing, the mining industry, healthcare and more.
Expanding materials portfolio
Contributing to the refinement of 3D printers are the materials with which can be printed.
One of the major factors that have limited metal additive manufacturing penetration is the limited size of available materials. Not only are few relatively high-performance powders readily available for demanding applications, but the cost of metal powders or spools often exceeds hundreds per kilogram.
To address this, material startups have been exploring new chemistries and high-performance metals like aluminum and alternative feedstock forms such as pellets and slurries.
Research at the National University of Science and Technology Institute of Steel and Alloy (NUST MISiS) Catalysis Lab has managed to print 3D products from metals of different groups on a single printer, reducing overall costs by an average of 30%.
You can read about the multimetal printer at Researchers develop multimetal 3D printer in the December 15, 2021, edition of Metal Tech News.
ExOne, a company that has been making waves with its binder jetting technology, recently developed a metal 3D printer to print precious metals like gold, silver, and platinum.
You can read about ExOne's precious metal printer at ExOne enables precious metals 3D minting in the November 17, 2021, edition of Metal Tech News.
Additionally, there are a plethora of specialized companies that are beginning to only manufacture proprietary powders, making it their best interest to bring the cost down and the effectiveness up to catch the numerous companies' attention in providing high-quality prints.
Beyond single element metals, alloys have also begun seeing their true worth, as 3D printing and 3D metal powder companies need the final product to be ductile as well as strong. With past metal 3D printing limiting results due to brittleness or tensile strength, many have begun mixing cocktails of powders for the best effect to meet their customer's needs.
Possibly the largest draw for 3D metal printing is the ability to make – when and where you need.
With skyrocketing shipping costs and worker shortages contributing to disturbances in the global supply chain, a renewed interest in domestic and localized manufacturing has blossomed to mitigate risks when relying on outsourcing from other countries.
Within this environment, metal additive manufacturing has received possibly the most attention, being a strong contender for low-carbon, clean energy manufacturing.
For metal 3D printers, a power source can be limited to electricity, requiring no burning or superheating of metal for production.
Although 3D metal printing cannot compete in the volume of typical metal manufacturing, AM does occupy some space in the green energy field and has been lauded as a space that can facilitate energy uptake.
Furthermore, 3D metal printers aren't just limited to printing solid metal parts – printing solar cells, LEDs, capacitors, circuit boards, microprocessors, the list could go on.
Even more so, manufacturing and production technologies that require fine pinpoint accuracy have been using 3D printing techniques even before 3D printing was popularized. Now, it's just a matter of repurposing for efficiency.
So, while most metal 3D printers will see permanent homes for mass production, the draw for mobile manufacturing is perhaps its most potent weapon.
IDTechEx' Metal Additive Manufacturing 2022-2032: Technology and Market Outlook report is incredibly extensive and covers, possibly, every aspect you could scrutinize about the future of metal 3D printing.
From new and emerging metal printing processes to the printers themselves, the materials to potential materials, and all the projected estimates and applications and analyses that one could ever need regarding this burgeoning technology are most likely detailed in the report.
It is evident a great deal of effort and research went into this paper and could very well become a leading resource on the future of metal AM.
Presently, IDTechEx has offered sample pages for examining, as well as a written summary of what is involved in the complete analysis.
The full report is available for purchase at https://www.idtechex.com/en/research-report/metal-additive-manufacturing-2022-2032-technology-and-market-outlook/861.