The first time I saw the 3D printing technology working at McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft was in the early 1990s, and it forever changed the way I thought about manufacturing. The 3D Systems stereolithography system was mesmerizing to watch, particularly as the laser danced across a vat of liquid resin to make complex-shaped parts. At the time, it was the new, cool 3D printing process and is now the standard practice of producing concept models and functional prototypes.
Not long ago the total 3D printing industry revenue was about a $1.0B dollars, and now many financial institutions five-year revenue forecasts predict the overall industry revenue to be over $30.0B dollars. The Wohlers Report is another indicator that estimated the CY2016 market growth to be at 17.4%.
So, what are the key factors driving the growth? The Internet of Things (IoT), more 3D/additive manufacturing equipment options, additional material options, cloud and design software tools, test standards, workforce development and expanded industry body of knowledge are accelerating the growth of the industry.
According to Statista’s (New York) industry numbers, about 34% of 3D printing applications are for prototyping, 23% for proof-of-concept models, 22% for production parts and 21% for miscellaneous applications like art, education and marketing samples.
As we go into the future, we will continue to witness faster transition of additive material and process for other production applications. Aerospace companies like Boeing, GE and Airbus were the first adopters to use technologies for low-rate production parts and are busy scaling the additive processes to other high-value production applications with an emphasis on direct-metal additive manufacturing.
Other vertical markets such as automotive, medical and consumer industries are making significant investments to adopt the technologies for various production tools and end-use parts. Additional technology use will occur as the technology build speeds become faster, lower-cost material options, software tools and the post-process automation. A current example of one of the first consumer examples is how Adidas is using the carbon-continuous liquid interface production (CLIP) technology to 3D-print tennis shoes.
Is it exciting to think what the next generation of industry people will bring? The next generation grew up in the digital world and are already tech savvy. What will they accomplish with the design and build freedoms of additive manufacturing?
In the near future, we will see innovative biomimetic designs for part lightweighting, enhanced crashworthiness of structures or breakthrough biomedical designs of implants or prosthesis that will improve the quality of life.
If you are passionate about 3D printing, additive materials, processes and education, SME kindly invites you to help continue shape and proliferate industry knowledge by getting involved with the various activities within the SME Additive Manufacturing Community.
More information is available at sme.org/additive-manufacturing-community. We hope to see you at the upcoming RAPID + TCT event, April 24–26 in Ft. Worth, TX.