Over the past few years, it has been a pleasure to follow the evolution and growth of the additive manufacturing industry, covering many firsts and breakthrough innovations. As the technology matures across all fronts—hardware, materials, software and applications—we will likely see fewer “first 3D printed” announcements, but that does not mean the industry will be any less exciting.
Looking back at our coverage of 2019, there are many indications that AM is beginning to consolidate within the manufacturing sphere and is moving steadily towards full-scale industrialization. Rather than a hyped up process that promises to disrupt all traditional manufacturing, it is increasingly being understood as a valuable asset within existing manufacturing workflows.
For this reason—and because of the sheer volume of AM news this year—it has been difficult to pinpoint a comprehensive list of the year’s top additive manufacturing stories. Of course, we also don’t want anyone to feel left out. That is, though the industry does have some clear leaders, it is largely a collaborative effort—a fact which rings especially true after Formnext 2019.
Instead of a definitive list, we’ll look at some of the stories from 2019 that are indicative of larger developments and trends in the industry, starting with the AM industry and moving into adopter industries. Finally, we’ll take a look at a couple of the year’s most notable and impressive 3D printed projects—we couldn’t resist!
AM industry highlights
2019 has been shaped by many developments in the additive industry—from high profile acquisitions, new product releases and more. In the latter category, we’ve seen a trend towards product releases focused on enabling serial production. HP, for instance, made some of the biggest news of the year with the release of its Jet Fusion 5200 series. The new additive system, which complements its existing Jet Fusion 4200 series and 300/500 series, provides a platform for achieving volume production.
Carbon is also continuing to show its commitment to volume production in the polymer sphere. The company, which continues to work with high profile customers, recently brought to market its L1 3D printer with high volume capabilities, which has already been adopted by the likes of Adidas and Riddell.
Beyond the hardware front, the additive industry has sustained its collaborative nature, with many 3D printing and industrial players partnering to drive the technology and its application forward. In Germany, for instance, we saw several key groups—GE Additive, Oerlikon, Linde and the Technical University of Munich—team up to form a Bavaria-based open AM cluster focused on R&D for additive technologies.
In 2019, the AM industry was also influenced by many partnerships between industrial materials developers and 3D printing companies, showing a growing commitment by chemicals companies to develop industrial-grade materials for 3D printing applications. One of the more notable stories came from BASF, which recently acquired French 3D printing service Sculpteo. If anything, this shows just how much materials companies are interested in pursuing AM.
The industry’s year culminated in Frankfurt this past November at Formnext. As well as bringing together the who’s who of the AM industry, the international event drew the largest crowds and most exhibitors to date—a fact which itself demonstrates the growth and energy within AM at the moment. Formnext 2019 brought to the fore some of the year’s greatest trends, including the global development of additive manufacturing standards and guidelines and the refinement and gradual industrialization of existing additive processes through software development, materials and process parameters.
AM adopter highlights
The most tangible developments in the additive sector arguably come from its adopter industries, where we can see how the technology is being applied and what benefits it offers in real-world applications.
In 2019, we saw continued adoption across established AM adopter industries, including the automotive, medical and aerospace sectors. In the aerospace industry, for instance, SLM Solutions and British aerospace company Orbex revealed they had successfully 3D printed the largest single-piece rocket engine, which boasted 20% higher efficiency and 30% less weight than its traditionally manufactured counterpart. An AM workshop jointly hosted by EASA and the FAA further demonstrated the broad appeal of AM in aerospace and the importance of creating aerospace-AM standards.
In 2019, we also saw exciting advances in two more recent adoptive industries, the transport and maritime sectors. In the former, 3D printing is showing its value for the production of on-demand spare parts for the rail industry. Partners Stratasys and Angel Trains marked an important milestone in the sector this year, deploying the first 3D printed components on British passenger trains. Even more recently, Mobility Goes Additive (MGA) announced the approval of the first safety-relevant 3D printed rail part.
In the maritime industry, a noteworthy development in a long-running project was achieved: Newport News delivered the first metal 3D printed part to a U.S. aircraft carrier. Next year, we’ll learn more about how the part—a 3D printed piping assembly—faired through its evaluation period. More broadly in the maritime sector, thyssenkrupp TechCenter was granted the first DNV GL certification for 3D printed maritime components, which shows the industrial viability of AM in the sector.
Other segments, like oil and gas also saw continued progression, with Italian hydraulic equipment supplier Aidro Hydraulics entering into a strategic partnership with EOS for the adoption of AM in oil and gas. A SmarTech Publishing report from 2019 also signalled incredible promise for oil and gas, finding an AM hardware opportunity worth over $1 billion. This means, we can expect to see much more about the energy segment.
In automotive, we’ve noticed an ongoing trend towards production—both for special edition supercars and motorsports, as well as in more large-scale automotive manufacturing. For example, automaker Ford revealed how it was using Desktop Metal’s metal AM technology to produce a number of end-use parts, while luxury car brand Lamborghini adopted Carbon’s 3D printing for automotive production at scale. Other carmakers, such as Audi and Volkswagen, continue to showcase their interest and dedication in AM.
On the consumer side, the footwear industry continues to be the most dominant adoption sector, followed by the eyewear market and jewelry. Footwear manufacturers, such as Adidas, are showing the technology’s huge potential for redesigning and manufacturing innovative midsoles and insoles. Interestingly, we also saw several inroads in the cycling segment, with a handful of companies releasing saddles (3D printed by Carbon), which take advantage of topology optimization.
In the medical world, we are seeing advancements in bioprinting—with an emphasis on achieving vascularization—and a broader adopter of 3D printing by hospitals for the production of medical models. The year has been particularly noteworthy for the trend of bioprinting in space! Companies such as CELLINK, 3D Bioprinting Solutions and 3dbio have all launched their technologies into space to test bioprinting in microgravity environments.
Top 3D prints of 2019
This portion of our 2019 review is purely subjective. Honestly, it’s just a small compilation of some of the 3D printing projects that have stood out in my mind over the past 12 months.
First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the 3D printed Lamborghini, which was easily the most popular story of the year, with 3dpbm as its primary source picked up by several major automotive and generalist media outlets. The epic project was spearheaded by physicist Sterling Backus, who worked with his son to build a life-sized, functional, mostly 3D printed Lamborghini Aventador. The large-scale project—carried out largely in Backus’ backyard—used a total of 220 spools of thermoplastic material to print the majority of the car’s body. Honestly, it’s just a bloody cool use of 3D printing.
I’d also like to highlight a university-led project which received not one, not two, but three Guinness World Records this year: a 3D printed boat by a team from the University of Maine. The impressive boat now holds the title of largest 3D printed and largest solid 3D printed object, while the process used to construct the boat has been named the “largest prototype polymer 3D printer.”
In the fashion world, 3D printed garments were featured at one of the industry’s biggest events. At the 2019 Met Gala, a handful of stars donned gowns and dresses designed by Zac Posen with stunning 3D printed features (printed by GE Additive). Stratasys also recently achieved a first in the fashion world by 3D printing directly onto denim as part of a new KAIMIN collection.
Touching on the 3D printing construction sector, which is still only just emerging, Chinese company Winsun recently impressed with the unveiling of a 500-meter-long 3D printed river revetment wall. The story was broken by 3dpbm earlier this month and tells of the largest 3D printed structure ever made.
Of course, these few examples are only the very tip of the iceberg for impressive 3D printed projects in 2019. It would, of course, require pages and pages to go through them all. If you’ve been following the industry closely this year, what are some of your favorite AM developments or projects?