The past two years have seen continuing interest and development activities around the use of fiber reinforced thermoplastic materials – primarily carbon fiber and glass fiber – in major 3D printing technologies: in this AM Industry Focus we have collected our coverage and market research on composites AM to analyze the major technologies able to process composites today and their possible evolutions in terms of both fiber reinforcement materials (primarily carbon and glass fiber) and support (or matrix) materials (primarily thermopolymers in pellet, filament or powder form).

Key companies operating in this segment include: 3D Fortify3D Systems3DXTechArevo Labs, Autodesk, BASF, CEAD Group, Cincinnati Inc.,  Continuous Composites 3D, CRP Group, EOS, Farsoon, Hexcel, HP, Impossible Objects, Ingersoll, Markforged, Prodways, Ricoh, SABIC, Siemens, Stratasys, Thermwood.

Commercial composite AM technologies available on the market today belong almost exclusively to two technological families: material extrusion and powder bed fusion. Some experimentation was taking place in the segment of lamination-based AM processes but has not yet taken off commercially.

The primary material in all traditional and advanced manufacturing applications for composites is carbon fiber. Beyond fibers, carbon can also be used in manufacturing (and in AM) in other forms, which are called allotropes. These include graphene (which is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms) and CNTs (carbon nanotubes). Another key material in additive manufacturing of composites (and in composite manufacturing in general) is glass fiber. Glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic are increasingly seen as an opportunity particularly for PBF processes.

Composites AM market forecast 2018 to 2028
Smartech Publishing’s latest report forecasts Composite AM to grow into an overall $10 bln opportunity. Source: SmarTech Publishing

Long-term growth is expected to be very significant as composites become even more relevant in segments which expand beyond the medical and aerospace sectors and into consumer areas such as next-generation automotive, energy, and transportation in general. As additive manufacturing technologies are perfected, SmarTech Publishing expects that they will take up a very considerable share of the entire composite manufacturing market.

In its latest report, SmarTech Publishing estimates the composite AM opportunity to grow into a nearly $10 billion yearly global business. This data includes over 4 billion in revenues from hardware sales. In particular powder bed fusion 3D printers are expected to be the primary type of systems used for composite AM part production. SmarTech Publishing expects the revenues generated by composite AM part production (including prototypes, tools and final parts) to top $4 billion by the end of the forecast period in 2028. Within this timeframe, final parts are expected to grow into the largest revenue opportunity.

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