The evolution of additive manufacturing tends, in recent years, to improve business capacity, evolving printers towards greater productivity, new printing technologies appearing, increasing the availability of materials available for printing and improving their quality.
In this post we tell you the different trends, their objectives and challenges.
Trend in machines
The most pronounced evolution is developing in metal printing equipment. Metal printing machines are evolving more and more rapidly as developments in newer technologies or technologies advance. From the business point of view, there are two particularly important points of view:
The way to improve productivity that most manufacturers implement in new printers, for the same technology, is to try to manufacture faster, for this they have developed:
- Systems with more lasers. The evolution from 1 to 2 or 4 simultaneously operating lasers is one of the most common developments of L-PBF or BJ machine manufacturers.
- Implementation of DED methods such as cold spraying or wire-fed systems, with higher deposition rate.
- Increasingly integrated systems that reduce the time between print cycles.
- Detachable or reconfigurable cameras that allow simultaneous preparation and extraction processes with the printing of other jobs.
- Improved error or irregularity detection and inspection systems that reduce the percentage of manufacturing rejects and identify causes of non-conformity or anomalies at an early stage.
From the commercial and organizational point of view, the trend is towards integration, preparing processes for greater competitiveness with traditional manufacturing technologies. For this we are seeing:
- Consolidation of brands, purchase movements of small companies or new technologies by the big players in 3D printing, or mergers between them.
- Automation and reduced downtime, teams tend to integrate automation solutions, especially in loading and unloading operations.
- Sales of hybrid machines or systems that incorporate some stage of post-processing to some extent, become more common.
This chart represents cumulative sales since 2002 of metal additive manufacturing printers, using various available sources. We can observe an important growth from 2012, but that suffers a halt in growth around 2017 that we attribute to companies that slow down the purchases of new machines to manage a transition of production towards the improvement of productivity with the optimization of the resources already available.
As for brands that manufacture printing machines, there are currently 4 to 6 times more manufacturers of metal printers than in 2002. There is also a greater variety of sizes, makes and models. You start to see some consolidation from 2016 when companies like 3D Systems bought LayerWise and Fenix, AddUp bought BeAM and GE bought Concept Laser and Arcam.
Trends in materials
Parallel to the development and evolution of machines, there is an increase and improvement in printing materials, both in an increasing number of different alloys available for printing, as well as polymers that increasingly improve their physical-mechanical properties, so that the aspects mentioned in the previous point are also improved:
- Every year more materials are adapted to be processed by 3D printing, either by the manufacturer directly, or by the users of the technology or machine manufacturers.
- The production capacity of powder for additive manufacturing has expanded significantly. In the beginnings of the technology, the materials available for processing by means of melting technologies or powder consolidation, came from previous developments for the technology of powder metallurgy, Today, the use in additive manufacturing surpasses the powder metallurgy.
- Material costs are getting lower and are now not the primary cost factor.
- Expansion and consolidation by traditional material suppliers is bringing some stability to the supply chain.