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5 Important 3D Printing Trends to Expect in 2019

2018 was the year in which 3D printing quietly solidified its position as a commercially viable, industrial manufacturing technology. With key developments across hardware, materials and software last year, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is becoming an increasingly important part of the manufacturing process.
 
With an impressive year for 3D printing in 2018, what does 2019 hold for the additive manufacturing industry? In this article, we share the top 5 industrial 3D printing trends you can expect to see over the next 12 months.   
 

1. Polymer 3D printing will continue to expand

3D printing

As we predicted in our 3D printing trends for 2018 article last year, 2018 saw a great deal of attention and excitement around metal 3D printing.
 
As HP also threw its hat into the ring with the launch of its
Metal Jet system, it became clear that the road towards industrial AM metal systems capable of consistently producing high-quality parts is well on its way.
 
The focus on metal 3D printing in recent months has meant that the expansion of the polymers segment — which still dominates the overall 3D printing materials market — has oftentimes been overlooked.
 
However, key developments in 2018 indicate that polymer 3D printing will again emerge as a significant segment for the industry this year.
 
The entry of a number of chemical companies into the 3D printing space over the last few years is just one indicator of this. Companies including the likes of DSM, SABIC, BASF, Solvay, Mitsubishi Chemical, Arkema and Lehvoss, just to name a few, have demonstrated a growing interest in 3D printing as an industrial solution.
 
With significant polymer expertise and a broad existing client base, such companies will be key to driving the further expansion of the polymer segment of 3D printing materials in 2019.
 
Another boost for the polymers market was EOS’s announcement of its LaserProFusion technology Formnext last year. Developed specifically for polymers, the technology is said to be a potential alternative to injection moulding processes, proving yet again that 3D printing — and in this case, polymer 3D printing — is maturing for industrial applications.  
 
Linked to the expansion of the polymers segment is the need for a wider range of materials that possess the properties needed for specific applications and industries. This is particularly true of highly-regulated and specialised  industries like automotive and aerospace.
 
We predict high-performance thermoplastics and composites will dominate the polymer 3D printing segment to meet this need and provide an even broader materials portfolio.
 
Related: ULTEM & PEEK: the Ultimate Guide to High-Performance 3D Printing Materials
 

2. Software will be crucial for 3D printing operations

 
Software, alongside hardware and materials, is an important element for developing an industrial additive manufacturing operation.
 
2018 saw a burgeoning awareness of the importance of software for various aspects of the AM process, from design/simulation to workflow management and security.
 
Take simulation software as an example.
 
With the capabilities of simulation software becoming increasingly more advanced, simulating the printing process as well as the properties of a part itself provides a better understanding of the impact of printing parameters. These insights can then be used to help reduce material waste, increase process reliability and optimise machine uptime.
 
As companies now begin to scale their operations, software will also become increasingly valuable for managing and streamlining AM processes at all stages. Ensuring workflow security will inevitably become a natural extension of this, as companies seek to safeguard their data and intellectual property.
 
AMFG’s partnership with LEO Lane is one example of this trend, as companies increasingly look to digitise manual operations whilst simultaneously creating a secure workflow.  
 
With this foundation in place, 2019 will see software for 3D printing operations becoming an even greater area of focus for companies. The advantages of this is clear — the ability to scale operations by  automating key tasks, as well as ensuring repeatability and quality control.
 
Related: Hardware, Materials and Software: the 3 Pillars of 3D Printing Success
 

3. Post-processing will become more automated

 
3D printing Post-processing
 
Currently, post-processing remains one of the least optimised stages of the additive workflow. Steps are being taken to change this, however, and 2019 is set to bring more automated post-processing solutions for 3D printing to the forefront.  
 
Currently, the majority of post-processing operations remains a heavily manual process, requiring skilled operators.
 
However, using manual processes to manage the post-processing stage can significantly increase lead times and production costs. If additive manufacturing is to successfully move towards serial production, there is a pressing need to automate post-processing operations.
 
Looking at the recent developments in post-processing, it seems 2019 will pave the way for further automated post-processing solutions aimed to speed up and optimise the process.
 
For example, at the end of 2018, America Makes announced it was awarding $1.6 million to a joint project between Arizona State University and the ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. Due to start this month, the project aims to advance post-processing methods for SLM parts.
 
PostProcess Technologies, a key provider of automated post-processing solutions, recently partnered with German manufacturer Rösler to bring its automated post-processing solutions to Europe.
 
The company also shared some of its  plans for 2019 in our interview with CEO Jeff Mize:

“[PostProcess Technologies will] be bringing a couple of additional solutions to the market – one in 2019 and another in 2020. These will offer an end-to-end post-finishing suite of products that we think will address the vast majority of customer needs for additive.”

Related: Expert Interview: PostProcess Technologies CEO on Solving the Post-Processing Bottleneck for Additive Manufacturing
 

4. Standardisation will help further the advancement of 3D printing

Additive Manufacturing Standards Structure framework for 3D printing ISO and ASTM International
ASTM/ISO framework for additive manufacturing

Developing standards for additive manufacturing will be a key driver for mainstream of 3D printing, especially as the industry continues to mature.  
 
Compared to traditional manufacturing, which has had centuries to developed standardised processes, materials and methods for production, additive manufacturing is still in the relatively early stages of this journey.
 
In addition to standards development organisations like ISO and ASTM International, the standardisation of AM processes has also garnered the attention of government bodies. 2019 will therefore see governments playing a role in shaping the standardisation and regulatory landscape for AM.
 
Recently, CECIMO, the European Association representing Machine Tool Industries, created an additive manufacturing committee to provide AM businesses with a platform to discuss EU policy affecting the industry. Prior to this, CECIMO also signed an agreement to participate in the ISO Technical Committee on Additive Manufacturing, known as ISO/TC 261.
 
Both moves are in line with the Association’s European additive manufacturing strategy, aimed at keeping 3D printing at the forefront of Europe’s manufacturing industry.
 
While CECIMO is just one example of governmental and standardisation bodies taking steps to support the industrialisation of 3D printing, this trend looks set to gain greater traction in 2019. For companies, this will mean clearer frameworks when it comes to establishing internal processes.  
 
Related: Developing Standards for 3D Printing: Where are We Today?
 

5. 3D printing will become smarter and more connected

Ford Motor Company Advanced Manufacturing Center in Michigan
Ford Motor Company opened its Advanced Manufacturing Center opened in Michigan in December 2018 [Image credit: Ford]

 
As the industrial world moves towards more autonomous, connected and agile manufacturing, 3D printing industry looks set to follow suit. In 2019, we can expect more companies to unveil new solutions aimed at taking 3D printing one step further towards digital, connected factories.
 
One example comes from German manufacturer BigRep, which has already shared plans of how it aims to link 3D printing to the concept of smart factories and Industry 4.0.
 
BigRep recently partnered with engineering company Bosch Rexroth, which will share its expertise in smart factory solutions. As part of the partnership, Bosch’s MXT technology will be used to improve the speed and reliability of BigRep’s 3D printers with the help of state-of-art CNC control systems and drives.
 
The technology will also demonstrate IoT capabilities, as users will be able to send commands to the machine, which will, in turn, collect and send back data, monitoring conditions in real time.
 
As 3D printing continues to grow as a digital manufacturing technology and manufacturing moves towards fully integrated solutions, full connectivity and data processing capabilities will be a must. 2019 will therefore see important, if gradual, developments that will come to enable the vision of a digital smart factory.
 

2019: An Exciting Year Ahead

3D printing has overcome significant challenges over the last few years, not least the consumer hype that failed to materialise in the early 2010s. Almost a decade later, the technology has firmly established itself as an industrial solution for industrial applications.
 
As we look to the year ahead, we’ll continue to see less hype and more application-driven solutions. This will provide more ways for organisations to use 3D printing as a manufacturing method that can complement and be integrated into existing manufacturing workflows.
 
2019 promises to be an exciting year for 3D printing- and we anticipate even more developments that will support the industry on its path towards further growth and maturity.