As we enter a new year, SmarTech Publishing (www.smartechpublishing) has just released its top three predictions for additive manufacturing in 2017. SmarTech Publishing is the leading industry analyst in the AM/3DP space and produces around 20 reports a year pinpointing the major opportunities in this sector, as well as carrying out demanding consulting and forecasting assignments for leading equipment OEMs, materials firms and investors.
The Way We Were: 2016 in Retrospective
SmarTech Publishing reports that 2016 saw significant growth in adoption of AM/3DP technology by major end users and is now widely accepted as a market ripe with opportunities for development of end-to-end manufacturing, healthcare, and product development solutions.
Nonetheless, SmarTech Publishing also believes that the sheer scope of 3D printing today is creating challenges in adoption for the short term. With a huge field of processing technologies and competitors in the hardware space all chasing diverse goals with new print techniques, refined processes, and application development, investment in 3D printing as a business model and production technique is more daunting than ever. Both end users and investors do not want to be left with an obsolete investment, and in some cases they are withholding or delaying adoption plans until the field is more clear. The AM/3DP scene has been further complicated by undigested acquisitions over the past several years.
Thus, 2017, as SmarTech Publishing sees things, is likely to become a year of unprecedented importance in the industry, characterized in SmarTech Publishing‘s opinion by the following trends or activities.
Prediction #1: 3D Printing for Healthcare will become a Leading Driver of AM/3DP Growth
In 2017, SmarTech Publishing expects healthcare-related 3D printing to flourish and drive a significant portion of market growth in the industry, while competition between print technologies and associated companies will otherwise create a highly chaotic market in other segments of the AM/3DP sector
In healthcare, especially dental and medical practice, 3D printing appears to be an increasingly viable and accepted tool. During 2017, SmarTech Publishing expects that 3D printing will accelerate its growth in dentistry where it will become the most widely adopted digital production technology within a decade. We think that this growth will be due to significantly improving work in disruptive dental applications — such as directly printed long term temporaries and dentures — moving towards permanent restorations in dental composites and ceramics.
Also in 2017, we believe that surgical communities — especially cardiac and orthopedic – will rapidly embrace 3D printing for a variety of use and 3D printing will prove itself able to improve the outcomes for patients as well as the ability to cope with complex cases. We will also see continued approvals of 3DP-related procedures, implants and medical devices.
One company to watch in this space will be 3D Systems. Despite this company’s well published growing pains, healthcare-related 3D printing continues to be a bright spot for this 3D printing giant, further demonstrating the success that technologies like photopolymerization, polymer and metal powder bed fusion, and others are enjoying as medical and dental engineers and practitioners continue to embrace additively-enabled care strategies.
Prediction #2: Rapid Tooling through 3D Printing Will Move Significantly Closer to the Mainstream
Use of 3D printing to achieve indirect manufacturing through production of both forming and assembly tools is an area that SmarTech Publishing expects to flourish significantly in 2017. As we see it the market is beginning to recognizes that 3D printing of tooling in both metals and polymers holds significant value when compared to traditional manufacturing with fewer complications and barriers to adoption.
Challenges remain, of course, but industry leaders in printed tooling will continue to validate the overall concept 2017. And this idea spans nearly every 3D printing technology and many materials.
We believe that as the awareness of additive manufacturing increases across the globe, many users will choose rapid tooling solutions over direct 3D printing until implementation strategies for direct production become clearer. In 2017 we will also continue to see production of assembly and repair tooling continue to validate the purchase of printers that may not be on the cutting edge of technical innovations in a market where hardware evolution seems to be outpacing the market’s ability to develop comprehensive solutions.
Prediction #3: Metal Powder Supply Chain for Additive Manufacturing Systems will be Driven by Aerospace Demand
In 2016, the metal additive manufacturing market took the spotlight as many industry players achieved significant growth. In 2017, SmarTech Publishing believes annual shipments of metal AM systems will grow again by between 20 and 25 percent. In addition, 2017 will likely be a transitionary year for metal additive manufacturing, as many of the biggest players in the industry are expected to be working to roll out next generation technologies.
Despite implementation challenges, the aerospace industry has been a leader in design and qualification of critical parts produced via metal additive manufacturing, for several years now and we expect it to continue in this role. A number of previously announced parts and partnerships will move into full scale production in 2017, which will likely result in aerospace suppliers and OEMs having an even greater influence on the supply chain for metal powders used in various AM processes. This will affect most alloy groups, but especially those of nickel superalloys, cobalt chrome superalloys, titanium, and potentially refractory metals.
As a result of this trend, SmarTech Publishing expects that well established, significant metal powder suppliers will gain market share within the additive metal powders market leveraging existing relationships with the aerospace industry.
Meanwhile, the implications of GE’s acquisition of two of the most influential AM system manufacturers will continue to have an effect on the overall sales patterns in the metals sector companies. These factors, along with a number of notable market entries adding to the competitive landscape for metal AM systems, will likely create a market state that could best be described as transitionary over the next twelve months.