For the fourth year in a row, market research company SmarTech Publishing has delivered a thorough and illuminating report about the state of the metal additive manufacturing market. The report, entitled “Additive Manufacturing With Metal Powders 2018” and authored by Scott Dunham, SmarTech’s vice president of Research, presents a comprehensive overview of metal AM markets, technologies, materials and more.
Speaking to Dunham about the extensive report, the additive market analyst explains that it is the most robust off-the-shelf analysis presently available to the AM industry. “I think it is the longest report SmarTech has ever done,” Dunham told us. “When we first came out with the report four years ago, it was closer to 100 pages long, but now it’s more than doubled in size.”
Comprising of over 200 pages, the Additive Manufacturing With Metal Powders 2018 report delves into the market’s disruptive hardware, materials and software, as well as identifies major trends and shifts happening across the AM sector. “We’ve got the whole market covered,” says Dunham.
Where is metal AM now?
So what can we expect of metal AM for the coming year? According to Dunham, quite a bit, as 2017 turned about to exceed SmarTech’s projections in terms of growth.
“When we published our report last year, our take on it was that 2017 was probably going to be a transitioning year,” he says. “In other words, the market probably wouldn’t grow in 2017 as much as it had been growing historically. To contextualize, GE had been wrapping up acquisitions, which had an interesting effect on the market overall. Having a big company like GE on board got more people interested in the technology, but it also created a lot of uncertainty in terms of customer orders because a lot of customers were hesitant to buy machines because they wanted to see how the industry was going to play out.”
“After all, nobody wants to spend a million dollars on a machine if potentially by next year a giant company is going to come out and have a way better machine or something like that. But despite this and despite our conservative estimates, the market grew pretty healthily and better than our expectations. The first half of the year was a little slow but then in the last half, it rebounded considerably. The growth was in line with the industry’s historical growth, somewhere in the 20 and 30 percent range in revenues.” Looking forward, the SmarTech Publishing report estimates that metal AM market revenue will exceed $9.3 billion within the next ten years. (Comparatively, 2017 saw total market revenues of about $1.15 billion.)
“Now, the big thing in the industry is how the metal AM market is being more broadly accepted by metal powder manufacturing organizations and associations,” Dunham continues. “Metal powder manufacturing associations that oversee those non-additive processes are all now treating AM as another powder-based manufacturing process for metals, which is really good. The next evolution in the market is additive becoming a part of the metal powder toolbox for industries like automotive and aerospace and whats really helping that is all this interest and activity around bound metal printing.”
Bound metal printing to open doors
By bound metal printing, Dunham is referring to the binder jetting technologies being introduced by companies such as Desktop Metal. Based on a system that builds objects by depositing layers of a binding material onto a bed of metal powder with a sintering post-processing step, bound metal printing is one of the big new trends in metal AM this year.
“Bound metal printing is going to be really interesting for the future of metal AM,” says the SmarTech VP of Research. “Laser and electron beam fusion systems are pretty well established—medical and aerospace have accepted them as key strategic manufacturing initiatives—but now you have this other really big potential additive process which can do some different things and open doors that the other technologies couldn’t. That’s kind of the biggest theme of the report. Now we have this whole new door opening with metal additive around bound metal printing and that complements what is already out there. Overall the market is looking really excellent for the future, better even than our expectations.”
Key players in metal AM
On key players in the metal AM market, Dunham draws attention to GE Additive, a fairly recent division of GE that has quickly become a giant in the industry (following a number of high profile acquisitions). Desktop Metal, which has already introduced its bound metal Studio System and is preparing to launch its Production System, is another company making waves. Additionally, Germany-based EOS is still a leader in metal AM.
Dunham explains: “EOS is still definitely a force in the market and will be for years to come. There will definitely be an advantage from a competitive standpoint for companies that have a solution in multiple metal AM technologies. Whether its powder-bed fusion, bound metal printing or directed energy deposition processes, all three are carving out their own little niche of what they’re good for. in the future, it won’t be a niche, it’ll be a lot bigger than that and there will definitely be some sort of competitive edge if you can attack all three of those as one machine provider or solution provider.”
Key growth drivers
In terms of key growth drivers, the SmarTech report still identifies the medical and aerospace sectors as the two most important growth drivers for the metal AM industry, though also highlights the growing importance of the automotive segment, which is increasingly exploring and adopting metal AM processes for producing replacement and spare parts. The report also looks at the oil & gas and energy sectors as separate growth drivers for metal AM.
Though adoption in these energy sectors has remained relatively slow, Dunham says that both oil & gas and energy (consisting of nuclear, wind and power generation) will become big users of metal AM in the future, and largely thanks to innovations within the aerospace field. “The types of applications in those segments are pretty close to what has been investigated in aerospace as far as engine components. So that makes it easier for the oil & gas and energy industries to get going with additive because there’s this body of work they can kind of tap into from the aerospace segment.”
In terms of new additions to the report’s analysis, Dunham explains that there is now a whole new section addressing metal AM software. “We did an interesting analysis on the software side for 3D printing and additive manufacturing and for the first time we’ve tied that in to our metal AM report. That means that now you can go into our latest report and see robust data about the types of software that are associated closely with metal additive manufacturing like process simulation tools and more.”
Excitingly, we can expect next year’s report to be even more thorough, as Dunham suggests that SmarTech will also be adding an analysis on metal AM services to the annual report. “What we want to ultimately do for the future, and what we’ll start to address in 2018 and 2019 is doing metal AM services. And then once we’ve completed that analysis, we’ll pull it into the overall metals report giving us the complete ecosystem analysis in one study.”
Interested in learning more about SmarTech’s Additive Manufacturing With Metal Powders 2018 report?
Listen to a webinar hosted by Dunham in which he discusses the major trends addressed in the report and highlights other key areas of the report’s findings. Registration for the webinar recording can be found here.