Automotive manufacturers were among the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing/3D printing (3DP) technology, but for decades have relegated 3D printing technology to low volume prototyping applications, while other industries have taken additive manufacturing to new levels. But today, an explosion of growth in utilization of 3D printing from automotive manufacturers is powering an evolution in automobile design and production. In this latest report, SmarTech illustrates how 3D printing in the automotive industry will generate a combined $1.1 billion dollars by 2019.
SmarTech believes that the automotive industry is at inflection point in its adoption of 3D printing, driven by several key trends:
- Record print volumes for 3D printed prototype parts are being achieved by several automotive manufacturers, upwards of hundreds of thousands of parts per year.
- Use of 3D printing in automotive is evolving from relatively simple concept models for fit and finish checks and design verification, to functional parts that are used in test vehicles, engines, and platforms. This represents a shift in 3D printing adoption towards higher value applications and is an early step towards acceptance of 3D printed end-use parts in automobiles.
- Leading automotive manufacturers are expanding beyond prototyping and test part production with 3D printing, and now experimenting with utilizing the technology for production of tooling and other parts to enhance the overall manufacturing processes for automobiles.
The market for metal powders for additive manufacturing (AM) applications will take off over the next five years:
- New applications in the aerospace, oil & gas, medical, and dental sectors will increase demand for powered materials exponentially. In this regard, SmarTech believes that GE’s recent $50 million dollar investment in it’s Auburn, Alabama plant to additively manufacture LEAP engine fuel nozzles is a prelude to larger investments in metal powder AM equipment by many large manufacturers that will soon require powdered materials for ‘round the clock production.
- Meanwhile, new powdered metals open up new applications that will cause metal powder application database to multiply over the next seven years. Forward-looking metal powder manufacturers like Sandvick Osprey, Carpenter Powders, and AP&C are already beginning to move up the AM learning curve, working with equipment OEMs to create higher performance, more consistent powders.
The quantity and quality of plastic materials available for 3D printing systems are key determining factors in the number of 3D printer purchases. These materials include especially ABS and PLA, but also include acrylate resins, epoxy acrylate resins, and nylon powder materials.
Many 3D printer firms are racing to fill out their plastic material portfolios and are using them to create competitive advantages. At the same time, major materials companies are also starting to see 3D printing as a profitable niche market worth jumping into now, with the promise of large opportunities down the road.
The market for personal 3D printers looks vastly different than it did only a year ago. Market leaders have quickly expanded equipment offerings to fill out the entire market in an attempt to be everything to everyone. This has allowed focused, smaller companies to challenge incumbent’s position by targeting niche markets in the personal printing space. Developing dedicated user bases and offering more direct customer service avenues will help a number of entrepreneurial personal printers equipment manufacturers capture large swaths of the market over the next decade.
The next generation of personal 3DP equipment will provide value that will open up large addressable markets. Meanwhile, new highly accurate personal SLA equipment opens up novel opportunities to serve existing customers, as well as new ones. The switch from to specialized 3DP equipment components promises a large boost of performance in the next 3-4 years.