Pellets and powders, reinforced with chopped glass and carbon fibers, to make many different types and sizes of final parts in the automotive, aerospace, energy and marine industries. This, in a nutshell, is the key opportunity that emerges from SmarTech Publishing‘s latest 200-page report detailing the composites additive manufacturing market. This first update of the benchmark report published in 2016 highlights how new, large format material extrusion technologies and expansion of powder bed fusion system capabilities are contributing to build the chopped fiber additive manufacturing market into a nearly $10 billion-dollar opportunity, growing at a forecasted CAGR of 22.3%.
The final forecasted value of 10 billion in generated yearly revenues by 2028 includes revenues generated by hardware (about 45%), materials (about 10%) and composites parts, including prototypes, tools and directly manufactured final parts, representing the remaining 45%.
While continuous fiber additive manufacturing technologies remain a long-term objective for several companies’ research & development efforts, chopped fiber reinforced materials have already begun to generate significant revenues in terms of new hardware, material sales and AM services. These are for the first time associated with the value generated through internal part production by major composite AM adopters in segments such as aerospace, automotive, medical, energy, marine and consumer goods.
The composites additive manufacturing market
The new 3D Printed Composites Materials Markets – 2018-2028 report goes on to identify and quantify the commercial opportunities presented by implementation of fiber-reinforced composite and nanocomposite materials for 3D printing in these major manufacturing sectors.
Data presented in this report 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. 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.
Pellets, filaments and powders
Commercial composite AM technologies available on the market today belong almost exclusively to two technological families: material extrusion and powder bed fusion. These technologies use chopped fiber reinforcements in thermoplastic material matrix. The nature of the matrix can vary according to the 3D printing process used: thermoplastic pellets are emerging in large format material extrusion 3D printers, while filaments are used in smaller size systems. Thermoplastic powders remain the most common support type for composite 3D printing, as they are used in widespread powder bed fusion systems, including both SLS and MJF.
Some commercial experimentation is taking place in the segment of lamination-based AM processes for pre-pregs, while continuous fiber technologies deposition processes remain almost exclusively experimental.
Carbon and glass
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). Carbon nanotubes are emerging as a viable reinforcement material for use in 3D printing. 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.
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.