Additive ManufacturingIndustry AnalysisMetal Additive ManufacturingMoney & FundingTrends 2024

Metal AM is dead, long live metal AM

We often see either exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market. While specific companies and technologies have ups and downs, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing and constantly changing.

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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 only a fraction of a percent of the overall metal manufacturing market, depending on what we include in the definition. Looking at the data from VoxelMatters Research’s 2023 report on metal AM, growing from today’s $2.8  billion to $ 40.3 billion 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 eventually 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.

We said it in previous editions and we repeat it here: there has never been a better time to invest in metal AM.

Evolving the metal AM market

Metal AM hardware evolution has been the key segment driving initial market growth. As the segment transitions towards higher throughput production, the prices of hardware systems are expected to decrease and the industry will be increasingly driven by value-added applications. The ongoing process passes through several steps. In the initial step, a high CapEx hardware investment, combined with a relatively small investment in materials, leads to the first value-added opportunity in AM services. This is what has taken place over the past two decades.

Despite exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing

As seen in the image above, hardware, materials and services are expected to remain central to the metal AM market in the near and medium term future. Eventually, more investments in design optimization for AM, automation and industrialization of processes will lead to the opportunities with the highest added value in the various industrial application segments.

Metal AM hardware can be mapped according to five major categories defined by their technological AM family and relative subsegments. Commercially viable technologies today include:

  • Powder bed fusion (L-PBF, EB-PBF)
  • Directed energy deposition (L-DED, EBAM, WAAM)
  • Jetting technologies (including metal binder jetting and material jetting)*
  • Bound metal printing (filament, stereolithography and PBF)*
  • Consolidation processes (Cold Spray, Ultrasound, Friction Stir)

*All jetting technologies and bound metal printing technologies are part of an over-category known as “sinter-based technologies” as they require sintering as part of post-processing.

Despite exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing

Key players in metal AM

There are a few different operators and stakeholders that make up the metal AM market. The leading metal AM hardware manufacturers helped to establish the metal AM market and, for the most part, continue to drive its growth today—though they are now joined and increasingly challenged by a new generation of players. The traditional industry leaders, EOS, SLM Solutions, GE Additive, 3D Systems and Renishaw, are all active in the metal powder bed fusion segment, a sector dominated by German firms. New entries such as Velo3D from the US, AddUp from France and Chinese companies such as BLT, Farsoon and EPlus3D are gaining market share.

EOS and SLM Solutions (which was recently acquired by Nikon) are both based in Germany, while American companies GE Additive and 3D Systems entered the sector through acquisitions of European companies: GE Additive acquired German firm Concept Laser and Swedish firm Arcam AB in 2016, while 3D Systems acquired French firm Phoenix in 2013 (and Belgian medical 3D printing service provider Layerwise in 2014).

Despite exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing

The aforementioned new generation of challengers has entered the market for metal AM targeting higher throughput production. In addition, several companies have been making significant efforts to industrialize and bring metal binder jetting technology to market as a high-throughput alternative to metal PBF. These include giants such as HP and GE, as well as smaller companies such as Desktop Metal (which is developing its own technology and also acquired metal binder jetting pioneer ExOne) and Markforged (which acquired Swedish company Digital Metal from Hoganas).

Metal AM materials manufacturers have been developing or optimizing metal alloys for use in additive manufacturing while building the infrastructure for the atomization of AM-compatible metal powders. Today a group of about 20 companies—which includes large international specialist firms such as Carpenter Technologies, GKN, Oerlikon, Sandvik, ATI, Linde (Praxair) and several others—has established significant leadership in this segment. However, dozens more large materials groups have earmarked AM as the next relevant area of growth and are now in the process of entering the market, bringing about a rapid expansion of available materials. That being said, the demand for materials remains low in terms of volumes, so several of these firms are also starting to offer metal AM services as a way to capitalize on their access to AM materials.

Despite exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing

Metal AM service providers sell their metal AM capabilities to companies that need AM parts and are not ready to make the significant initial investment—in terms of hardware costs and human capital, labor and experience—to bring AM production capabilities in-house. Major international AM service providers include Protolabs, Toolcraft and Materialise, as well as specialist metal AM service providers such as BEAMIT, Poly-Shape (now part of AddUp), Siemens Materials Solutions, Sintavia, multiple Chinese companies (operating mainly in the domestic market) and several dozen more smaller firms. Metal AM service providers are often responsible for developing, implementing and sometimes patenting new AM-integrated end-to-end production workflows.

These firms differ from AM adopters, the fourth major category of market operators, as they generally sell application-agnostic 3D printing services—which can cater to several industrial requirements—instead of using the technology to produce parts to sell or use themselves. As with AM service providers, AM adopters also produce parts by AM and develop segment-specific expertise in AM-integrated workflows. They either act as Tier 1 or Tier 2 suppliers of 3D printed parts to OEMs or as end-users of 3D printed parts produced internally.

Despite exuberant or ominous predictions on the metal AM market, VoxelMatters data shows the sector as a whole is always growing

Typical AM adopters in this category that have invested significantly in the industrialization of metal AM include major Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers in segments such as aerospace, automotive, medical, maritime and energy, including Airbus and Boeing (aerospace), BMW, Daimler Benz and Volkswagen (automotive), Stryker and Zimmer Biomet (medical), Thyssenkrupp and Wilhelmsen (maritime).

In our database, we can account for machines and materials acquired by these adopting companies. However, the value for these value of parts that they produce internally – which is arguably one of the main drivers of their investments in AM – cannot be included in any revenue segment as no direct sale takes place. This ability to accelerate development and reduce time-to-market is where AM’s impact is most significant.

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One Comment

  1. You stated “All jetting technologies and bound metal printing technologies are part of an over-category known as “sinter-based technologies” as they require sintering as part of post-processing”.
    Jetting is jetted material. Why don’t you define jetting correctly. If you say “Sinter-based Technology” then remove jetting. Jetting is a very old and specific technology. I am researching jetting metal and when I am done it will be reported as Jetting Metal and not binder technology.

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