Metal additive manufacturing is continuing to expand at a rapid pace throughout a variety of important adopting industries, as evidenced by research from SmarTech Markets Publishing who has established dedicated market models for this area of the 3D printing industry.
The evolution that 3D printing has begun to undergo from a product development tool to a potential full blown production tool represents one significant area of it’s future. There are, of course, a multitude of ways that the oldest print technologies utilizing plastics and polymers can be evolved into production equipment, but ultimately the area that is expected to lead 3D printing into the 21st century is in metal additive manufacturing processes like powder bed fusion, metal binder jetting, and directed energy deposition.
In 2014, metal additive manufacturing grew at an explosive pace, surpassing even the most generous of market estimates. So much so, in fact, it has driven Senior Analyst Scott Dunham at SmarTech to divulge an entirely new industry report series on the topic for tracking key growth data for the industry to utilize (available under the reports section).
Machine sales, which often outpace the machine provider’s ability to produce these systems, grew an estimated 89 percent according to SmarTech’s ongoing market assessment in metal 3D printing. That translated to an astounding 790 units sold last year –about 80 to 90 percent or so we estimate were actually delivered to clients and are capable of operation today.
The primary driver of growth from a broad perspective is the maturation of metal 3D printing technologies from an “R&D” style of use towards more serialized and regular production of end-use components with high global demand.
There’s really only one downside to such explosive growth at a relatively early stage. The higher industries like aerospace, medical, and automotive set their collective sights for metal AM, the more hurdles these systems will have to climb to get there. Afterall, few would be as excited about metal additive manufacturing if its goal was to forever stay relegated to research institutions for special one-off research and development projects. Instead, metal AM is heading rapidly towards a seriously disruptive future, but in order to get there, several things need to be addressed which often get lost in the enthusiasm and excitement -many of these are covered in SmarTech’s research report on the topic.
The reality is, however, despite several metal AM processes and systems having been in development for a decade already, we’re really just at the beginning of true commercial impact. Plenty of big industries are eagerly waiting to see how rapidly it will mature, while others are diving in to help drive it forward themselves.
If 2014 was any indication, however, things will continue to advance rapidly for 2015 and beyond.