Metal Additive Manufacturing

According to most estimates, metal manufacturing represents roughly 25% to 30% of the $12 trillion (USD) global manufacturing market. Although these numbers are very broad, they do provide a clear indication of the potential opportunities that lie ahead for metal additive manufacturing.

Today, the metal AM market is estimated to be worth just a small fraction of a percentage point of the overall metal manufacturing market, depending on what we include in the definition. As we will show in VoxelMatters Research’s upcoming new study on the Metal AM Opportunities and Trends, growing from today’s few billion to tens of billions in yearly revenues within the next decade is a realistic goal that will bring significant benefits to all companies involved in this industrial segment and will still leave huge potential for further growth beyond 2032.

Metal AM has existed as a commercially available technology since the mid-90s. However, its use over the past 25 years has mainly been limited to areas such as prototyping and the experimental production of advanced parts and tools. Today we are transitioning from small batch to medium batch and sometimes large batch (serial) final part production as most major technologies begin to express and explore their potential for scalability. Each major metal AM technology presents a different approach—as well as different benefits and challenges—to digital serial and mass production. However, these technologies share the common objective of enabling a new type of production that can produce better products, in a way that is potentially more efficient and more environmentally sustainable.

If they succeed in this transition—as we and most market operators and stakeholders expect that they will—metal AM technologies will begin to generate business opportunities several orders of magnitude larger than anything we have previously seen. These opportunities will arise for companies developing and producing hardware but also, and perhaps especially, for firms producing metal AM materials and metal AM parts.

Although it may sound like a cliché, metal AM is the future of metal manufacturing. Metal AM will not replace existing technologies, but it will continue to grow faster than any other established manufacturing technology because it offers engineers, manufacturers and part providers new and genuinely unique possibilities. We have only now begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible, but new applications emerge daily. AM’s unique ability to produce parts directly from CAD, with few process-related design constrictions, means these applications can be realized more rapidly, leading to even faster adoption of some of the most complex manufacturing technologies ever.

Any recorded slow-down in adoption only concerns specific technologies not the overall metal AM segment. For example, laser PBF experienced a phase of extreme growth and then a relatively slower period as other processes such as laser (and other types of) DED enjoyed more widespread adoption. Now L-PBF is again on the rise, driven by larger (producing parts larger and taller than one meter) and more powerful (with 12, 16 and even 20 lasers and beyond) systems.

The metal AM market is entering yet a new phase of growth, driven by process optimization, automation, and industrialization of PBF and DED. Companies, such as Velo3D, EOS (via AMCM), SLM Solutions, Farsoon and E-Plus introduced the largest metal PBF systems, with build volumes beyond 1 meter on the Z-axis and fast multi-laser (up to 12) capabilities. It took several years but metal binder jetting is actually entering the market led by Desktop Metal and several other old and new competitors. Meanwhile, new companies are offering WAAM capabilities to produce larger parts with more materials. And gigacasting via 3D printed sand molds is opening an entirely new world of metal AM capabilities for automakers.

At the same time, a large number of new technological approaches are populating this market. These include affordable bound metal printing, leveraging filament extrusion processes, and high-res metal printing, leveraging stereolithography-based bound metal AM. Other processes, which implement different types of cold metal consolidation (ultrasonic, kinetic) are also targeting high-speed production of extremely large parts to near net shape, where they square off with increasing adoption of DED systems in the machine tool industry.

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