Earlier this year, research firm IDTechEx released a report on metal additive manufacturing, estimating its value to reach $18.5 billion over 10 years, showing a gradual market recovery. As part of this study, the firm carried out an analysis of the future of the metal additive manufacturing market comparing the different processes that exist, seeking to understand the main trends in the sector but also the possible future sources of income. Powder bed processes, concentrated energy deposition (CED), wire extrusion: which technology should you focus on? Where is the future of metal 3D printing?
Fourteen 3D printing processes were analyzed and compared in the IDTechEx study. Among them, of course, are the best known technologies such as binder jetting, DED, extrusion (whether with granules, paste or even filaments), laser powder bed fusion, but also less popular processes such as electrochemical deposition or cold spray. For each process, criteria such as print volume, accuracy, machine and material price, and required post-processing steps were compared to assess strengths and weaknesses.
Current market trends
As with many other technologies, price and build volume are two key factors that users are particularly sensitive to. Starting with the first, you probably know that metallic powder is expensive, especially when it comes to uniform powder. This is a high barrier to entry for many companies, preventing them from turning to powder processes, although there are many on the market today. This is where we see a trend emerging: the development of extrusion technologies, more specifically the deposition of metallic filaments, or rods, and granules. An example is manufacturers such as Meltio, which has developed a machine that combines two types of raw materials to lower the cost of a 3D printed part. More and more specialized FDM/FFF players have also introduced extruders capable of supporting metallic materials.
Of course, some processes are historically based on a raw material other than metal powder: DED comes to mind, for example, but also sand powder bonding. The main disadvantage of these two technologies is the entry price of the machines in the market. If you look at the IDTechX comparison chart, you will see that these are the most expensive 3D printers. Therefore, a user looking for a cheaper solution will probably tend to opt for an extrusion solution.
If we now look at the build volume, we see that the metal additive manufacturing market offers a wide range when it comes to size. Users can design smaller parts on laser fusion machines, for example, but also large components through processes such as cold spraying. So the trend is encouraging, users will not be held back by the volume currently on offer. As a result, they can broaden the range of possible applications and thus increase the use of metal 3D printing.
What is the future of metal additive manufacturing?
Based on the survey results, it would seem that a metal 3D printer that combines a relatively low entry price (or even lower raw material cost) with a large build volume would be a hit with users. Be careful, when we talk about the price of the machine, we are talking about $500,000. Today’s high-volume printing solutions cost several million dollars. In addition to this, the key properties of a metal 3D printer are surface finish and tensile strength – users want a solution that is capable of designing quality parts that meet the most demanding requirements.
Finally, the IDTechX report shows that a balance must be struck between manufacturing speed and resolution. Current technologies often sacrifice one of the two; generally, good surface finish is favored at the expense of high material performance. What if we could combine the two? If some polymer processes have been able to do this, like Carbon’s DLS technology or EnvisonTec’s cDLM, why not metal additive manufacturing? This is what we will have to see in the coming years: the combination of speed and resolution to go towards the production of finished parts in large series. In any case, you can be sure that we will keep an eye on this. In the meantime, you can read the full study HERE.
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*Cover photo credits: laser cut