Additive manufacturing: 3D printing of metal structures has major potential for complex products and processes in various industrial sectors

(PresseBox) ( Munich, )
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- Global market for 3D printing of metal structures (additive manufacturing) was worth EUR 1.7 billion in 2012
- In the next 10 years, the experts at Roland Berger expect the market to more than quadruple
- Additive manufacturing will be used even more in the aviation, medical technology and car industry
- Technological improvements and a reduction of up to 50% in process costs over the next 5 years will significantly boost demand

Manufacturing metal three-dimensional objects using 3D printers (additive manufacturing) could soon be ready for use in series production. As early as the 1980s, companies recognized the time, cost and design benefits of this technology for making prototypes and small series. In 2012, the global market for additive manufacturing was worth EUR 1.7 billion. The manufacture of metal structures accounts for around 10% of this figure.

The experts at Roland Berger even expect sales of this technology to more than quadruple in the next 10 years as the associated costs fall sharply. Additive manufacturing will thus be much more appealing for many applications. These are the main findings of "Additive Manufacturing - A Game Changer for the Manufacturing Industry?", a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

"Using 3D printers to make metal products already offers major potential for special components such as injection nozzles, prostheses and tool inserts. Developers and manufacturers that enter this market early on and offer suitable solutions can benefit greatly from the growing demand over the next few years," predicts Martin Eisenhut, Partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Additive manufacturing - Robust sales growth expected

The market for 3D printing of metal structures is still in its infancy: total global sales of additive manufacturing make up only 1% of sales in the machine tool industry. But the additive manufacturing market will grow much more robustly in the next few years. "In the last ten years demand for this technology grew only slowly but that will soon change," explains Roland Berger expert Bernhard Langefeld. "Between now and 2015, sales of additive manufacturing are set to quadruple - to the benefit of German engineered products manufacturers, who currently account for almost 70% of the global market."

A market for additive manufacturing services has also emerged, covering manufacturing, process development and design optimization. Service providers often set up shop close to high-tech aviation or Formula One manufacturers.

More possible applications at lower cost

The expect upturn will be largely driven by a significant drop in the price of the technology. Currently, metal 3D printing costs are over ten times higher than conventional manufacturing methods but the material costs of the technology will fall by 50% over the next 5 years. In the 5 years after that, they are set to drop by another 30%. "More and more companies from different industry sectors will therefore discover and use this technology," Eisenhut predicts.

Despite the costs still being high, the benefits of additive manufacturing are already appreciated in many industrial sectors. The technology is already competitive if product lifecycle costs, especially fuel consumption, can be saved due to process-specific design solutions. Thanks to this technology, aircraft manufacturers can substantially reduce the weight of seatbelt buckles, for example. This has a positive effect: over the total useful life of an aircraft, this saves over 3 million liters of kerosene or EUR 2 million. With any type of geometry possible, optimized injection nozzles for aircraft engines with more efficient combustion can be manufactured in the future.

Additive manufacturing can be used successfully in dental technology, too. With the help of additive manufacturing, 450 crowns can be produced per machine per day, while a dental technician can only make around 40 crowns a day. "The benefit of 3D scans is that they allow precisely tailored products to be made," Langefeld says. "Using this process, new geometric shapes, features and integrated functions can be made into metal components - things that would not be possible with conventional machines - at a cost independent of the geometrical complexity or batch size of the component. Prospects like these will help this innovative technology achieve a breakthrough," Langefeld concludes.
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