Ceramic Additive Manufacturing

Few materials in the world of manufacturing offer as wide a range of applications as traditional and technical ceramics. When it comes to ceramic additive manufacturing, the wide range of different additive manufacturing processes further expands the range of applications and materials. Although ceramics remains a niche market for additive manufacturing, the interest surrounding it is enormous and continues to grow.

3dpbm’s latest report on Ceramic Additive Manufacturing Opportunities and Trends 2020-2030, looked with unprecedented depth at the ceramic AM market finding that the opportunities are there and must be pursued.

The overall ceramic manufacturing market, including both technical ceramics such as alumina and zirconia, and sand materials, is currently worth as much as $400 billion yearly. According to the study, all of ceramic additive manufacturing today (including hardware, materials and services) generates $154 million. Although this figure does not include parts 3D printed by companies for internal use (which however has a relatively small impact on the total), that’s a lower penetration than metal AM and polymer AM in their respective addressable markets. Although only a handful of ceramic AM technologies can be used for industrial production today, they do exist and their still limited adoption is due to a number of factors.

Ceramic additive manufacturing has been around for two decades but only recently technical ceramics AM and sand binder jetting have begun to emerge
This map of ceramic AM technologies was published by 3dpbm in 2017. We have been studying the ceramic AM market very closely, leading to the recently published report on Ceramic AM, which provides the most accurate description this AM market segment

Factors limiting technical ceramic AM

These elements include still limited technology readiness, where only a few companies have developed processes that are able to produce dense technical ceramic parts. Even so, applications are limited by some processes’ complexity, high CapEx costs, relatively slow speeds and part size limitations. Another major limiting factor is the well as the known reluctance by large ceramic parts manufacturers to invest significantly in new processing capabilities, which would modify processes that have been consolidated over decades.. The biggest challenge today may be lack of awareness, where the relatively small number of ceramic AM companies around the world is not yet able to collectively generate the same level of awareness that metal AM and polymer AM have now achieved.

To help address some of these challenges, in 3dpbm’s Ceramic AM Opportunities and Trends report, we identified 96 companies (about 50% split between traditional and technical ceramic companies), including AM hardware manufacturers, AM materials suppliers and AM service providers. In total, the dataset for this market study comprises over 6,000 data points, providing the most accurate snapshot of the current ceramic AM global market [Click here for the most up-to-date Map of Ceramic AM Technologies and Companies].

3dpbm’s report on Ceramic Additive Manufacturing Opportunities and Trends 2020-2030 was release last month and provides by far the most accurate description of this interesting market segment available today.

We identified the current market leaders in technical ceramics as hardware companies Lithoz, ExOne, 3DCeram and XJet. Ceramic stereolithography is the most industrialized process for technical ceramics, with SLA technology better suited for internal industrial production and DLP technology ideally suited for AM services and outsourced production. The primary revenue opportunity in technical ceramic today is in hardware because the ceramic industry still needs to develop enough application cases to enable more production initiatives.

Some of the most advanced ceramic companies are now starting to increase their ceramic AM prototyping and production capabilities. More companies will follow because AM enables the production of ceramic part geometries and subassemblies that cannot be made in any other way, including digital subtractive methods. Complex ceramic 3D printed parts are needed in the aerospace, energy, dental/medical and consumer products/jewelry segments. In addition, silicate ceramics are used to produce complex foundry cores, for the production of metal parts in the energy and aerospace segment. Other opportunities are now emerging in the production of silicon carbide parts.

Traditional ceramic AM on the rise

In traditional ceramic additive manufacturing, the scenario is radically different. Here the primary benefits are found in the foundry industry, for rapid production of complex casts and cores. In such a traditional industry, the initial CapEx investment required for implementing AM is a major hurdle.

ExOne and Voxeljet, the current market leaders in this segment, produce very large and expensive machines. Althoug the value proposition of implementing additive for foundry cast and core production has been clearly established, based on several real application cases (presented in our report), adequately conveying these possibilities to the wider current addressable market remains challenging. Foundries and sand binder jetting services providers—·especially in the US and in Germany—are now starting to adopt and offer these capabilities. Recently, GE formed a collaboration with voxeljet to build the largest sand binder jetting machine in the world to make casts for giant single parts of the Halyade-X wind turbines, an initiative that could truly open a new era for sand binder jetting.

Ceramic AM Today

Researchers have been studying additive manufacturing of ceramic materials for close to two decades (almost as long as AM exists). While they have shown great promise from the very beginning,  the first real, practical and commercial applications of ceramics AM began to emerge only recently. Over the past two years the number of production applications has been steadily increasing and will continue to do so.

More companies will transition to 3D printing of sand casts and cores, without having to depart from their current use of casting processes, while benefiting from AM to produce more complex metal parts. In the long run, technical ceramics are key materials for the aerospace, medical and advanced industrial/engineering parts industries, including electronics and energy. Engineers will need to increasingly turn to ceramics when they have exhausted the possibilities of metals and advanced polymers, using AM to push part geometry.

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