Additive Manufacturing — The Next Industrial Revolution?

Published on 31 Aug, 2017

Often heralded as ‘the next industrial revolution’, Additive Manufacturing’s  unique processes, techniques, and technologies open up new grounds for innovation, offering a range of logistical, economic, and technical advantages in the manufacturing space.

As interest in Additive Manufacturing (AM) grows, those involved in the sector are making efforts to integrate AM technologies into the mainstream manufacturing mix.

Unlike most conventional manufacturing techniques, AM forms objects by building matter up rather than removing it. Coupled with Computer-aided Design (CAD) software, this technique affords the creation of new types of object with unique material properties.

Adoption of Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Grow in Manufacturing

The global AM products and -services market grew 29% (compound annual growth rate) in 2013 to over $2 billion. Growth in the personal 3D printer market was pegged at 46.33% in 2012 — far short of actual measured growth, which averaged 345% each year from 2008 to 2011.Projected Global Additive Manufacturing Market Size 2008-2023

Most of these machines are being sold to hobbyists, do-it-yourselfers, engineering students, and educational institutions.

Additive Manufacturing Applications Timeline

Medical, Automotive, and Aerospace Are Among Additive Manufacturing’s Fastest-growing Areas of Application

Businesses across a wide range of industries such as consumer products, energy, equipment & machinery, electronics, and so on are already applying additive manufacturing to their prototyping and manufacturing processes. Global Additive Manufacturing Segmentation

While there are a myriad of possible application areas, some sectors like automotive, aerospace and medical are in a better position to take advantage of the benefits that additive manufacturing has to offer.

Additive manufacturing is best suited for sectors where safety, consistency, and precision are priority. Fast prototyping, customization, and the ability to manufacture in small batches have all aided the quick adoption of additive manufacturing in the aerospace, automotive, and medical sectors.

The aerospace industry has emerged as the largest adopter of additive manufacturing with the entrance of metals-fed AM machines in 2011. This was a revolutionary development that resulted in good take-up of the technology owing to its added advantages in speed, cost, and material rationalization.

Additive manufacturing’s success in the biomedical sector rests with its ability to create customized prosthetics, implants, replacement tissues, and intricate body parts, including blood vessels.

Additive manufacturing is a far more formidable force in the world of cars than it was five years ago, especially in application areas that involve the manufacture of niche bespoke and non-bespoke parts.

The rapid growth anticipated in these sectors is being driven by the countless benefits provided by additive manufacturing — including, but not restricted to — less production, light-weight design and cost reduction.

Trends Shaping the Additive Manufacturing Market

As the industry shifts towards metal-printing machines, companies are innovating with multimaterials, application-specific materials (such as conductive inks, custom plastics, performance polymers) and ceramics in order to allow for more flexibility.

The coming years are expected to witness a growing adoption of additive manufacturing in tooling, with industry leaders like GE getting behind the new technology. GE has stated that by 2020, 25% of its products will be impacted by additive manufacturing.

For additive manufacturing to achieve the desired results, it is crucial that a greater variety of suitable allied hardware and raw materials are devised, coupled with new software that are carefully aligned. The software utilized in subtractive manufacturing, for example, is not suitable for the additive processes, and recent years have witnessed the emergence of software that is better suited to additive manufacturing; with significant improvements in optimization, simulation, and the building of specific machine and material combinations.

Cost-effectiveness of Additive Manufacturing

The additive manufacturing process is cost effective when manufacturing in small batches. As material cost accounts for a major chunk of the total manufacturing costs, an increased adoption of additive manufacturing may lead to a reduction in manufacturing costs through more prudent use of materials.

Improvements Needed in Additive Manufacturing Techniques and Technologies

Additive manufacturing has faced technological issues and challenges since its creation in the 1980s.

In order to move the technology past these barriers, there needs to be focused attempts toward improving the materials that are used as feedstock, CAD programs that help design components, the speed with which AM machines build those components, as well as improving product reliability and the all-important protection of intellectual property. 

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