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Driving a billion-dollar AM business in automotive

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential

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The consensus is that the automotive industry is the next major area of growth for AM technology in general, as processes become faster and more cost-effective, enough to support the higher demand of the mass automotive sector. This area, which also encompasses luxury automotive (a segment that has already adopted metal AM for production to a certain extent), and motorsports (where AM adoption is now widespread), is expected to surpass $1.6 trillion in yearly revenues by 2032. Motorsports is treated here as a separate segment and is estimated to be worth around $10 billion yearly. If we combine the data from VoxelMatters’ most recent Polymer AM Market 2023 and Metal AM Market 2023 reports—which take into consideration all AM hardware, AM materials and parts 3D printed by AM services and sold into the automotive segment—we determine that the automotive market generated overall sales of $1.2 billion for core AM companies in 2023.

This is just the beginning.

Polymer AM in automotive

Automotive additive manufacturing—in the form of rapid prototyping—has been at the core of the auto industry since the very first AM technologies appeared at the end of the 1980s. General Motors was one of the very first to install the very first 3D printer ever created, the SLA-1 from 3D Systems, in 1987. AM has since entered new areas of the automobile industry, such as motorsports and luxury limited editions, opening up new possibilities in terms of mass customization.

The next and final phase of automotive additive manufacturing sees AM radically altering supply chain and production dynamics, becoming the standard for tooling and offering new possibilities in spare parts and obsolescence management. However, the ultimate goal is the introduction of AM technologies to digitize and further automate serial production of car parts, with some opportunities in terms of mass customization of vehicles. In particular, the electric vehicle (EV) and hydrogen-powered revolution stand to benefit from and further drive adoption of AM. First, as massive prototyping is required to rapidly develop the next generation of vehicles based on new propulsion paradigms, and later on as weight optimization and integrated subassemblies become a key requirement to extend mileage and reduce energy consumption within increasingly “solid-state” vehicles, with an eye on the future of flying cars and consumer VTOLs/eVTOLs.

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Airtech assisted BBi Autosport’s vehicle manufacture by providing aerodynamic enhancements to the Porsche racecar – using 3D printed mold tooling that was manufactured with Airtech’s Dahltram printing resins, and Print-Tech in-house 3D printing service

As automotive is one of the first major industries expected to move to AM for serial production, the implications of this paradigm shift are extremely significant for both AM and the global manufacturing industry, extending to all industries linked to parts production, from raw materials to global distribution. Given the sheer scale of the global automotive market, there is incredibly high potential for the development of automotive additive manufacturing technologies. As high-throughput AM technologies such as thermal powder bed fusion (MJF, HSS, SAF) and high-speed photopolymerization (DLS, cDLM, etc.) continue to become more established, we may finally see an escalation of polymer AM adoption for automotive final parts.

The production requirements of the automotive segment—and its subsegments—are unique and strictly tied to its underlying characteristics (high productivity requirements, lower cost of materials, high automation of production), in addition to its changing trends (demand, regulations, scale economics, geopolitical situations, supply chain dynamics) and macro trends (propulsion systems, mass customization, smart mobility, connectivity and digitalization).

While most automakers have developed strategies for implementing AM in mass-market car manufacturing at some point—and AM hardware manufacturers eagerly await them to do so—most AM will continue to be implemented in more specific and targeted areas for the near future, from increasingly heavy use in motorsports (F1, Nascar, minor and research competitions) or luxury and one-off vehicles. The extent of AM use in mass-market automotive, though mainly for commercial vehicles such as buses and trucks, is related to on-demand spare part production and digital inventory efforts.

Metal AM in automotive

The first mass-production automotive applications are starting to emerge in polymer AM. On the other hand, 3D printing of metal parts for mass-market cars remains far away and requires a significant paradigm shift in metal AM productivity. Some expect and bet that this can be brought on by new metal binder jetting technologies; however, these are not yet fully deployed at a commercial level. In the meantime, some metal PBF (AddUp, SLM Solutions, EOS, Velo3D) technologies are increasingly proving their worth and gaining more widespread adoption for the production of molds and mold inserts specifically for the automotive and tire sectors.

Metal 3D printing plays a multifaceted role in the automotive industry. It serves as a pivotal tool for prototyping and concept cars, facilitating the swift iteration of designs and the functional testing of novel concepts, ultimately expediting the development process. Furthermore, it empowers automakers to craft customized components tailored to specific vehicle models and individual customer preferences, including engine parts, exhaust systems and even personalized interior features. The most notable example of metal AM in hypercar production (and eventually mass production) comes from Divergent. Nearly ten years ago, the company pioneered a production method that maximized the use of laser metal PBF, now known as the Divergent Adaptive Production System (DAPS). This system includes a set of tools, processes and procedures specifically designed to ensure that DAPS meets all international standards and customer requirements. The process has ISO, AS and IATF certifications, demonstrating the robustness and environmental sustainability of the process (which is now being implemented in drone production by General Atomics).

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
The 3D printed gearbox inside the Czinger C21 car, developed and produced by Divergent using DAPS technology. The Czinger C21 features a 3D printed chassis and the “most power dense” 3D printed ICE engine.

Metal 3D printing can produce lightweight yet strong structural elements, helping to reduce overall vehicle weight. This leads to improved fuel efficiency and enhanced performance, which can ultimately prove to be a key advantage in ushering in the EV era by maximizing mileage capabilities between charges. While this has not been the case so far, a few different experimental applications have already emerged for EV powertrains that use metal AM. These include a 3D printed E-Drive housing on the engine-gearbox from Porsche and SLM Solutions, which demonstrates that additive manufacturing is also suitable for larger and highly stressed components in electric sports cars. German startup Additive Drives has developed highly efficient copper 3D printed windings for electric motors (used for prototyping); the company is now developing fully 3D printed electric motors.

Metal 3D printing allows for the creation of intricate and unattainable geometries, particularly beneficial for components such as heat exchangers and cooling systems. Additionally, it enables the production of high-performance parts like turbochargers and suspension components, improving a vehicle’s speed, handling and overall capabilities. In addition to component production, metal AM simplifies the manufacturing process by fabricating tooling, molds and jigs, effectively reducing production costs and lead times.

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Azoth manufactured the first metal 3D printed part using binder jetting on a General Motors production vehicle.

A particularly exciting area is classic and vintage vehicles, where metal 3D printing, combined with reverse engineering via 3D scanning, can bring back rare or obsolete parts, when all the original production tools have long been lost, extending the lifespan of these automobiles.

The technology’s benefits also extend to lightweight and efficient brake systems, optimized exhaust systems, and its widespread use in the demanding motorsports industry, with Formula 1 now being more open about its teams adopting AM technology not just for development but for end-use parts. Eventually, metal AM will increasingly enhance the automotive supply chain’s efficiency by enabling localized part production, reducing reliance on extensive inventories and long-distance shipping. Finally, to ensure vehicle safety, it allows for the customization of safety-critical components such as roll cage reinforcements and impact-absorbing structures, enhancing overall vehicle safety.

VoxelMatters Research expects metal AM will occupy a significant share of these high-revenue sectors by 2032. In the mass and luxury automotive manufacturing industry, metal AM is expected to grow into a $6 billion yearly revenue opportunity, with motorsports contributing an additional $500 million by 2032, up from a combined $300 million today.

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Total hardware, materials and services revenues for polymer AM and metal AM in the automotive segment. Forecast 2023-2033

Analysis of polymer AM and metal AM in the automotive segment

If we combine the data from VoxelMatters’ most recent Polymer AM Market 2023 and Metal AM Market 2023 reports—which take into consideration all AM hardware, AM materials and parts 3D printed by AM services and sold into the automotive segment— we determine that the automotive market generated overall sales of $1.2 billion for core AM companies in 2023. This data, which nearly doubles the amount generated in 2020, represents a growth of 21.8% YoY. VoxelMatters Research’s projections indicate that core AM products in the automotive segment could grow more than 10-fold, to generate 13,3 billion ten years from now, in 2032 at 26% CAGR

At the end of 2023, Polymer AM products represented 69% of core AM automotive revenues while Metal AM products represented 31%. At the end of 2033, Metal AM revenues in automotive will grow to 41%, while the Polymer AM revenue share will decrease by 10 percentage points to represent the remaining 59%. Polymer AM will go from revenue of $850 million in 2023 to $7.9 billion in 2033, growing at 25% CAGR, while metal AM will go from $376 million to $5.4 billion, growing at 30.5% CAGR. Overall we are talking about a 1 billion dollar opportunity for AM in 2023 in just one adoption segment, without counting all the benefits deriving from internally 3D printed parts such as prototypes, tools and final parts and components. Ten years from now, taking into account the AM industry’s current and expected development rates, we could be looking at a $13 billion opportunity.

Without disclosing too much information from VoxelMatter’s market studies, which include similar information for all core AM products (hardware, materials, services) across all major vertical market segments (available for purchase on the company’s website VoxelMatters.report), we can also provide some relevant data specific to revenue generated in the automotive segments by these key core AM products: hardware, materials and services (in terms of outsourced 3D printed parts).

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Hardware revenues for polymer AM and metal AM in the automotive segment. Forecast 2023-2033

AM hardware generated revenues of $552 million in automotive in 2023, growing 20.8% YoY. It can grow to $6 billion by 2033, at a 27% CAGR. Today Polymer AM hardware represents about two-thirds (65%) of AM hardware sales in automotive while Metal AM hardware represents 35%. Ten years from now we expect the percentages to be 57% for Polymer AM hardware and 43% for metal AM hardware.

Achieving 6 billion in hardware sales is no easy task. Assuming an average price of 300,000 per 3D printer [this is not the actual average price from our market study], it would mean selling 20,000 3D printers per year. This can be achieved only if AM becomes a fully scalable production technology within the automotive industry during the next decade. Several indications, such as increasing workflow automation, increasing productivity and multiple new applications from body to powertrain, point to the fact that this is within reach.

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Materials revenues for polymer AM and metal AM in the automotive segment. Forecast 2023-2033

Interestingly – but not unintuitively – Metal AM materials occupy a much larger share in automotive AM revenues in spite of lower hardware revenues, indicating that lower volumes are being used (on a smaller number of systems) at a higher average price per Kg. We expect this segment to grow from about $160 million in revenues at the end of 2023, to over $1.8 billion by the end of 2033. One very interesting element that emerges from our projections is that while Metals represented only about 30% of all material revenues in automotive AM in 2023, they will grow to represent 50% of all material revenues by 2033 and will continue to grow their market share with respect to polymers after that.

This is an indication that metals will become increasingly important as metal AM hardware will increase their productivity making high-value parts even in terms of serial and mass manufacturing applications – with a specific focus on generating value by reducing subassemblies and increasing part performance. At the same time, we expect that as polymer AM technologies become even more productive and suited for mass production of automotive parts, material prices will decrease significantly in order to adequately compete with injection molding applications even on lower-priced parts and components.

Automotive is already a $1.2 billion-dollar business for core AM companies and most adopters companies have but begun to explore its potential
Revenues for parts products by AM services bureaus for polymer AM and metal AM in the automotive segment. Forecast 2023-2033

The data on parts produced by AM services for the automotive industry helps us better understand and quantify the overall potential of AM adoption in this key vertical. In total, we expect yearly revenues to go from $516 million at the end of 2023 to $5.4 billion at the end of 2023, growing at 26.4% CAGR. Here, despite revenues being much higher for metal materials, as we saw in the previous chart, the largest share of revenues, in 2023 as in 2033, comes from polymer AM parts, 75% to 25% in 2023 and 64% to 36% in 2033.

Several elements affect this trend. The first is that this data only refers to AM services (while material data refers to all material demand, including all vertical automotive AM end-users, such as OEMs and tier 1/tier 2 suppliers). It is likely that while polymer AM services will be a popular outsourcing solution for many of these end-users, some of them may also prefer to carry out metal AM activities in-house to have greater control over the process in parts that are likely to be more critical.

Another element to consider is that while polymer material prices will decrease significantly as production and adoption increase, the value of polymer 3D printed applications will remain fairly high. The high price of metal AM materials on the other hand may limit overall productivity and thus overall revenues generated by AM service providers.

This article first appeared in VoxelMatters Mobility AM Focus eBook. Read or download the full ebook for free at this link.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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