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What My Inbox Tells Us About AM

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

One of the informal ways I keep track of industry trends is by counting the number of press releases I get on particular topics. As the editor in chief of Manufacturing Engineering, I get a lot of them, as many as 50-60 per day. The two leading categories for the press releases, by far, are digital manufacturing and additive manufacturing.

AM, in particular, represents a bewildering array of companies, technologies, software and more from companies around the world—many of them brand new. And it appears that my press release index works—AM is growing rapidly. For example, in May 2019, SME released, for the first time, a Metal AM survey of more than 300 AM professionals. Almost half of survey respondents are investigating the use of metal AM for applications in their companies. Another one-third of respondents have been using metal AM for more than one year. You can read more about the survey in a new monthly ME column by Steve George, business intelligence manager for SME, on page 24.

Other research confirms that AM is on the rise. According to 3D Hubs’ “Trend Report 2020,” three times more professionals are using 3D printing today than three years ago; 35 percent of total venture capital funding was invested in 3D printing startups in 2019; and a record high of more than $1.1 billion was raised by 3D printing startups in 2019 alone. Moreover, 40 percent of all online 3D printed parts in 2019 were for serial production, and the forecasted average annual growth of the 3D printing market for the next five years is 24 percent.

Serial production of AM parts is taking place in many industries. “With ubiquitous applications across multiple industries—including automotive, aerospace, maritime, medical, space, sports, motorsports, railway, and defense—3D printing is changing new product development and aftermarket supply chains globally,” the report said.

This issue of ME provides a wealth of information on AM. In our additive outlook feature on page 40, Ray Huff and Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates explain how AM is developing rapidly in both capability and use. They report how companies and organizations the world over—and some in outer space—are discovering new ways to put AM to work.

In “Metal Milestones in 3D Printing” on page 46, Kip Hanson notes that, while metal AM is a relative newcomer compared to polymer AM, its popularity for end-use products is growing fast and is having a big impact on the manufacturing industry.

And finally, in “New Polymer Applications in AM” on page 56, Ed Sinkora says that while the 3D printing of polymers has been around for over 30 years, new applications are coming online—including the mass production of simple plastic parts—largely due to innovations in materials.

AM is a relatively new way of making parts, but it meshes well with traditional machining. Manufacturers are creating new paradigms, and I look forward to seeing them in my inbox!

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