3D metal printing also called additive manufacturing (AM), has become a versatile manufacturing process that is being adopted rapidly in the aerospace, automotive, and medical industry. It has been possible due to its capability to build lightweight but also strong parts, and its simplicity to elaborate new products from complex designs.
So, what is driving the industry growth?
First, new developments in the healthcare industry boosted by a higher health awareness of the population are pushing the sector to design more precise medical parts. One example is Stryker, a medical technology firm that develops 3D printed titanium products such as posterior and anterior cervical cages.
Second, 3D printing friendly policies and incentives are expected to drive R&D and more investments in the market. For instance, Creat3d Brisbane, a 3D printer hub supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, enables SMEs to get into 3D printing at no or minimal cost.
Third, the potential of 3D printing to reduce environmental impact is expected to bolster its adoption. 3D printing allows less wastage of metals as compared to traditional manufacturing due to an optimized design of products thereby reducing the carbon footprint along the life cycle. According to Damien Lemasson, Project Manager at Renault Trucks, 3D printing has enabled them to produce engines 25% lighter and with less material thus improving fuel efficiency leading to a lower carbon footprint.
Moreover, with a growing population and a further expanding global middle-class, the aerospace sector is experiencing rapid growth. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global air traffic passenger demand for 2017 rose 7.6% compared to 2016. The higher demand in combination with high jet fuel prices is pushing the aerospace industry to implement 3D printing technology. The rising awareness to save cost and weight (a lighter airplane means lower fuel costs) and the ability to print parts in less time on demand is expected to be the driving factor for 3D printing metals. Materialise working in partnership with GE Aviation, was able to print a fuel nozzle that used to be made up of 20 different parts, and now it is printed in one piece, 25% lighter and five times stronger.
The reasons mentioned above are expected to drive 3D metal printing growth. Asia, Europa, and North America will be the major markets, and Europe is taking the lead.
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Figure 1: Greatest metals demand in North America, Europe & Asia Pacific*[/caption]
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*Hoovers, Factiva, NCBI, 3Ders, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Additive Manufacturing Society of India, Company Annual Reports, Company Websites, Grand View Research.
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