Hardware

Metal needed to show mettle of 3D printing

August 3rd, 2015
Metals are the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales growing at 48% and material sales growing at 32%, writes RACHEL GORDON, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx
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Plastic 3D printing has its place in prototyping and education, but 3D printing in metal is being used to manufacture parts in a wide variety of industries. Metals are the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales growing at 48% and material sales growing at 32%, according to the brand new IDTechEx report 3D Printing of Metals 2015-2025.

Adoption by high-value low-volume industries 

Because of the current speed, size and cost limitations, the high value, low volume industries such as aerospace and biomedical, have been the earliest adopters. GE Aviation are investing $3.5bn in new plant to house EOS M-280 printers to print 100,000 fuel nozzles by 2020. Arcam claim their 3D printers had been used to manufacture over 50,000 orthopaedic implants so far. Both these industries demand titanium alloys, giving them a market share of 31% by volume. Aerospace is also heavily investing in cobalt alloys, nickel alloys and aluminium alloys.

Fig 1. Breakdown of installed base and 2014 sales by company showing most companies are experiencing huge growth in sales and there are many new players in the market. Source: IDTechEx Research

Fig 1. Breakdown of installed base and 2014 sales by company showing most companies are experiencing huge growth in sales and there are many new players in the market. Source: IDTechEx Research

Jewellers are also early adaptors of SLM technologies. There are many reasons jewellers are able to quickly adopt the technology; there are no qualifying standards for jewellery; jewellery designers are already good at CAD; they are used to subcontracting; they are skilled in finishing and polishing; they used to making bespoke items; and they crave design freedom and unusual designs. The jewellery industry is driving 3D printing in precious metals, with gold powder having a 49% market share by revenue.

More and more industries are adopting 3D printing 

Dental suppliers, Argen Digital, offers metal substructures to make copings and bridges with the same properties as cast parts. Siemens are producing blades for gas turbines for power generation. NASA have said that they intend to 3D print 80-100% of their rocket engines in the future.

Wide range of technologies, alloys and applications 

3D Printing of Metals 2015-2025 (www.IDTechEx.com/3dmetals) covers the full range of metal 3D printing equipment including selective laser melting, electron beam melting, blown powder, metal + binder, welding and other emerging technologies…using a wide range of precious metals and engineering alloys including aluminium, cobalt alloys, nickel alloys, steels, nitinol, gold, platinum and many more…in a variety of industries including aerospace, automotive, dental, jewellery, oil and gas, orthopaedics, printed electronics and tooling.

Worldwide forecasts of equipment and materials to 2025 

The report includes a very detailed breakdown by company and technology of the worldwide 3D printer sales during 2014 and installed base at the end of 2014. The properties of all commercially available 3D metal printers are mapped by speed, volume, precision, and price. Powder shipments in 2014 by volume and revenue are detailed. Forecasts to 2025 are for the total installed base, printer shipments each year, printer prices, revenue from printer sales, and metal powder sales split by volume and revenue.

The information has been gathered by IDTechEx analysts from 29 formal interviews (included as profiles) and many informal conversations, since we started tracking the 3D printing market. However, this is the first time all the information on equipment, materials and applications related to metal 3D printing has been clearly displayed in one report.

This report is valuable to anyone involved in equipment or materials for metal 3D printing, developing the technology for new applications or concerned about the impact on the aerospace, automotive, dental, jewellery, oil and gas, orthopaedics, printed electronics, tooling and general engineering industries.

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