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Metal Additive Manufacturing on the Upswing

Steve George Business Intelligence Manager SME
By Steve George Business Intelligence Manager, SME

While it’s still considered early-stage, metal additive manufacturing/3D printing (AM/3DP) is an important part of the growth in the global additive manufacturing market as it helps manufacturers produce stronger and lighter parts, improve efficiencies, reduce waste, lower emissions, and increase speed to market.

To better understand the topic, in May 2019 SME released, for the first time, a Metal AM survey of more than 300 AM professionals—from production managers to design engineers to educators.

Almost half of survey respondents are investigating the use of metal AM/3DP for applications in their companies. Another one-third of respondents have been using metal AM/3DP for more than one year. Respondents that have been using metal AM/3DP for more than one year are primarily in military/government, research and development, and aircraft/aerospace.

In automotive, two out of three indicate they are using metal AM/3DP for prototyping, design, and development, largely in the development and testing phases. The automotive industry’s usage of metal AM/3DP for prototyping, design, and development is 21 percent higher than the study average. Automotive industry respondents also indicate significantly higher usage of metal AM/3DP parts for tooling or molds than respondents in other industries.

More than four out of five respondents (87 percent) indicated they expect the usage of metal AM/3DP to increase. Among those respondents, three out of five (61 percent) anticipate the usage of metal AM/3DP to increase by at least 10 percent, with almost 20 percent of that group indicating a more than 20 percent increase in the next 12 months. The application area where respondents indicated the greatest growth will occur is prototyping, design, and development, followed by education and research.

Steel, aluminum, titanium and nickel are the top four most widely used metals/alloys. While most metals/alloys tested are used in comparable amounts in North America and outside North America, chromium is used significantly more extensively outside North America.

Steel is used significantly more in automotive than in other industries to replicate the manufacture of production parts, while nickel is used more often in aircraft/aerospace and materials. In the medical/surgical/dental industry, titanium is a standard in replacement parts and is used significantly more than in other industries.

Three Big Winners

Respondents indicated that aluminum, steel and titanium are the top three metals expected to increase in metal AM/3DP usage in the next 12 months. However, the materials industry registered a higher forecasted increase in nickel usage than other industries, whereas medical/surgical/dental registered the opposite.

Almost two-thirds of respondents indicated the greatest growth in metal AM/3DP in the next 12 months will come from North America, followed by Asia and Europe (23 and 12 percent, respectively). Respondents outside North America indicated an increase in the forecasted use of both aluminum and nickel over the next 12 months compared to their North American counterparts.

Overwhelmingly, respondents indicate that cost issues are the greatest barriers to entry for adopting metal AM/3DP, with the top four responses being machine cost, funding, facilities and overhead costs, and materials costs. There are, however, industry-specific barriers to entry outside of cost. For instance, in the medical/surgical/dental industry, regulations are a significantly higher barrier to entry than other industries, while funding is a significantly higher barrier to entry in research and development and education/academic than other industries.

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