09 July 2019 13:37
How Mature Is Your Industry In Its Adoption Of 3D Printing?
[Image credit: EOS]
Many industries are now using 3D printing in their product development and production processes. From automotive to construction, industries can benefit from faster lead times, greater design freedom and toolless manufacturing offered by 3D printing.
However, many companies remain hesitant about embracing 3D printing, often out of a lack of understanding of how the technology is currently being used in their sector, and uncertainty as to whether it is the right time to invest.
To help companies better understand how 3D printing is evolving across industries, we’ve put together a Maturity Chart highlighting 8 key industries.
The 3D Printing Industry Maturity Chart
The Chart is divided into four main stages, characterising the adoption rate of 3D printing:
- Early stage. At this stage, early adopters are only just beginning to investigate the capabilities of the technology. While there are a lot of R&D initiatives and pilot projects, actual real-life case studies are few and far between.
- Adolescent stage. The technology’s capabilities are evolving. Companies are adopting 3D printing for prototyping applications and more case studies are becoming available.
- Early mainstream. The use of 3D printing expands to tooling, functional prototyping and some end-use manufacturing projects. Best practices for the technology are starting to be developed. New case studies appear more frequently.
- Mature stage. The technology is proven, well-understood and established as a manufacturing method across many industry sectors. The key standards have been developed, enabling repeatable quality at scale.
The level of adoption of 3D printing varies greatly across different sectors. Below, we explore the state of the technology in the key 8 industries embracing it, and what the future of 3D printing looks like for each sector.
Stage: Early mainstream
The aerospace industry is one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing, with the first use of the technology going back to 1989. In 2018, aerospace constituted 12% of the total additive manufacturing market, heavily contributing to ongoing advancements within the industry.
Clearly, aerospace is one of the most mature industries for 3D printing. Here, the technology brings value to prototyping and tooling applications, and even more so to end-part production.
Some of the industry’s largest players, including GE, Airbus, Boeing, Safran and GKN, have implemented state-of-the-art 3D printing technologies, particularly for metal, into their production processes.
A case in point is the Boeing’s latest 777X twin-engine jet that will fly with six 3D printed parts inside its GE9X engines later this year. Among these parts are GE’s well-known 3D-printed fuel nozzles, as well as other parts like temperature sensors, fuel mixers and larger parts, like heat exchangers and separators.
In addition to printing end-use parts, the aerospace industry is heavily contributing to the further industrialisation of 3D printing. Some of the notable efforts include the ongoing standardisation activities and research initiatives.
For example, Boeing teamed up with Oerlikon to standardise titanium 3D printing for aerospace applications in February 2018, while SAE International issued four different standards for 3D printing in aerospace last summer.
When the industry starts talking about standardisation, it’s a clear indicator that a technology is moving away from being exotic toward routine manufacturing.
When looking at the projected growth of 3D printing in aerospace, market reports predict a CAGR between 17.5% and 20.24% over the next five years. These figures suggest that the use of the technology will continue to proliferate, as aerospace companies are finding new use cases and deepening their expertise in 3D printing.
To sum up
Aerospace companies are some of the most advanced users of 3D printing. Not only do they incorporate 3D printing into production but also are also contributing to standardisation efforts. With more aircraft incorporating 3D-printed parts on board, the technology has clearly reached the early mainstream stage of adoption.
Stage: Early mainstream
3D printing has gained significant traction in the medical industry, expanding the opportunity to provide personalised care, produce custom medical devices and presurgical models.
According to a report by market research firm, SmarTech, the market for medical 3D printing, including materials, services, software and hardware, is currently estimated to be $1.25 billion. By 2027, this number is expected to grow to $6.08 billion.
Within medical 3D printing, the three main segments will be orthopaedics, personalised surgery and medical devices.
Orthopaedics represent one of the biggest growth opportunities. SmarTech predicts that there will be more than 1 billion implants 3D printed in metal by 2021.
One of the key drivers for this growth is the ability to use3D printing to create superior orthopaedic implants. Such implants feature complex mesh structures, which allows for better bone ingrowth and, ultimately, better treatment outcomes.
Furthermore, 3D printing is well positioned to become the leading digital process in the fabrication of dental models, orthodontic aligners, restorations and more.
The benefits afforded by 3D printing, such as increased customisation and high accuracy, are “going to bring [dental] to the next level and get to that point of transitioning the whole industry over to additive,” predicts Scott Dunham, VP of Research at SmarTech Analysis.
Clear aligners, a transparent form of dental braces, is a market poised to thrive with 3D printing. For example, Align Technology, the maker of Invisalign clear aligners, has recently increased its investment in 3D Systems’ SLA 3D printing technology. At Align, the technology is used to produce moulds for more than 320,000 unique clear aligners per day.
In a similar vein, SmileDirectClub, the pioneer of remote clear aligner therapy, has established a fleet of 49 HP Jet Fusion 4210 3D printers. The company is now looking to 3D print nearly 20 million mouth moulds over the next year.
As 3D printing technology and materials are advancing, we’ll see dental companies shifting to direct 3D printing of clear aligners in the next few years.
To enable this, however, a critical factor will be the ability of healthcare regulators to keep up with the unfolding possibilities in medical and dental 3D printing.
To sum up
The adoption of 3D printing within the medical industry is close to that within aerospace. However, we’ve placed medical slightly ahead, due to the possibility of shifting entire segments, such as dental, to 3D printing as a key manufacturing technology.
Stage: Early mainstream
As of 2019, 3D printing has established itself within the automotive industry as primarily a technology for prototyping and tooling applications. However, the technology is gaining greater traction in series and customised end-part production, particularly for motorsports and luxury vehicles.
Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen major automotive companies introducing 3D-printed parts to their vehicles. For example, Ford is collaborating with Carbon, a manufacturer of resin-based 3D printers, to produce end-use and spare parts for its vehicles. The parts include lever arm service parts, auxiliary plugs and parking brake brackets.
In late 2018, BMW reported that it had 3D printed its one-millionth component, which has been in series production since 2010. The component, a window guide rail for the BMW i8 Roadster, was 3D printed using HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology.
In addition to polymers, metal 3D printing is gaining a stronger foothold in automotive. This is particularly driven by the introduction of cheaper and faster metal binder jetting technologies, which prove more cost-effective for serial production and mass customisation.
For example, Volkswagen is looking to employ HP’s new Metal Jet technology to produce structural components for mass-production vehicles. The automaker hopes to achieve this goal within the next two to three years.
These trends indicate that the automotive industry is racing toward the industrialisation of 3D printing within its production workflow.
To sum up
The use of 3D printing in automotive has only recently reached the early mainstream stage thanks to rapid advancements in the technology. This allowed 3D printing to transition from being a solely prototyping tool to a production solution for niche markets like luxury and racing cars.
Moving forward, we’ll see more 3D-printed parts installed in vehicles beyond luxury and sports cars. This will also allow automakers to investigate and implement supply chain optimisation strategies, like on-demand and customised production, on a much broader scale.
The electronics industry is a young yet growing area for 3D printing.
“Now the 3D-printed electronics space is…probably where the traditional AM space was about 5 years ago,” says Simon Fried, Co-Founder of Nano Dimension, a manufacturer of electronics 3D printers, in an interview with AMFG.
“At present, it’s mainly rapid prototyping, but it could be only a few years before we see higher-volume additive manufacturing of electronics.”
By leveraging 3D printing, engineers are able to design and produce prototypes of complex circuit boards and antennas in-house.
For manufacturers, this means being able to accelerate the product development process by eliminating the need to outsource high-value projects to third parties.
Optomec and Nano Dimension are currently two of the biggest players within the 3D-printed electronics market. Both are developing systems capable of producing functional electronic components.
Notably, Taiwanese electronics company, LITE-ON, has been using Optomec’s Aerosol Jet Technology to 3D print antennas and sensors for consumer electronic devices since 2016. This example alone demonstrates a huge, but largely untapped, potential of the technology.
To move 3D-printed electronics into the mainstream, the technology, will first of all need to become more scalable to be able to deliver higher production volumes. Materials and design software will also need to catch up to enable electronic manufacturers to 3D print parts with higher complexity and functionality.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen significant advances made in 3D-printed electronics. These advancements are slowly moving electronics 3D printing from being solely a prototyping tool to direct production.
To sum up
At present, electronics 3D printing remains at the adolescent stage. It has established itself as a useful prototyping technology but has a long way to go before entering the mainstream.
Over the last few years, 3D printing in construction has brought about much excitement. In many ways, this excitement has been fuelled by the media hype around the alluring idea of fully 3D-printed houses.
However, despite the hype, 3D printing within the construction industry remains very much in the early stages.
The vast majority of the construction projects realised in the last few years has been for demonstration purposes only. The value of these projects comprises a few hundred million dollars, a drop in the ocean when compared to the construction industry’s annual revenue of $10 trillion globally.
Currently, there are four key applications for 3D printing within the construction industry:
- Concrete extrusion, where a 3D printer extrudes a special formulation of concrete material to create a structure, for example, a wall;
- 3D printing of moulds, which are subsequently used to produce building components;
- 3D printing of metal structures like bridges using large-scale metal technologies like Direct Energy Deposition;
- 3D printing for interior design and architectural models.
These applications vary in their maturity. For example, concrete 3D printing can be used to make a foundation and walls of a building. But this only one part of what’s needed to build a house, and doesn’t include the installation of heating, plumbing, electrical, windows, flooring, roofing and surface finishes.
However, the 3D printing of concrete has the potential to greatly improve over the next few years. The global concrete 3D printing market is projected to grow from $30.56 million in 2018 to $57.89 million by 2024.
This growth will be largely spurred by an increasing number of new, innovative construction projects. For example, Dubai has an ambitious mission to implement 3D printing in 25% of new construction projects over the next six years.
Right now, one of the biggest wins of 3D printing in construction may lie in the production of joints and facades, leveraging the power of 3D printing to produce complex and large moulds.
A recent renovation project for a 42-story residential and commercial building in New York City greatly illustrates this.
Gate Precast, a company which had been working on the new facade for the building, found that creating wooden moulds for the project would be a major undertaking that could take up to 9 months to complete.
To speed up the process, the company used large-scale 3D printing technology, BAAM, and was able to print 40 moulds within 8 and 11 hours.
Not only were the 3D-printed moulds faster to produce, but they also gave architects much greater flexibility to incorporate innovative shapes into their designs.
To sum up
We’ve placed 3D printing within the construction industry at an early stage, since the capabilities of the technology for the sector are only beginning to take shape. Currently, the construction industry has only scratched the surface of what’s possible with 3D printing. As of now, 3D-printed houses remain very distant prospect.
There is still a lot of research and development ahead before construction firms incorporate 3D printing to fulfill the promise of 3D-printed houses.
That said, the capabilities of the technology to produce working structures remain limited and will require more research and development to push them forward.
In the more immediate future, 3D printing will continue to be used for architectural models, interior design components and moulds.
In the long term, however, there is a lot of scope to improve and advance the technology, creating a lot more opportunities for architects and construction engineers alike.
Oil & Gas
Multinational oil & gas company, BP, has listed 3D printing as one of six technologies that will impact the energy sector significantly in the next few years. Among the key benefits for the sector are improved product performance, reduced costs and lead times, and a more flexible and distributed supply chain.
Despite these benefits, the adoption of the technology within the oil & gas industry has been slow, with companies mainly using 3D printing for prototyping applications and pilot projects.
One of the key reasons why adoption of 3D printing in oil & gas has been slow is that the industry’s largest stakeholders rely entirely on their supply chain. Oil & gas Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers tend to rely on proven methods of production and are resistant to adopt new manufacturing processes like 3D printing.
However, pioneers like GE and Siemens Oil & Gas have already started to integrate 3D printing into their manufacturing supply chains, using the technology to produce turbomachinery parts, impellers, burners and burner swirls.
For such applications, metal 3D printing technologies, like SLM, EBM and DED, will be most beneficial to the oil & gas industry. DED, in particular, could be valuable for the sector, considering its ability not only to manufacture new parts but also to repair existing components.
To sum up
The World Economic Forum has estimated that 3D printing could save cost and time worth $30 billion of additional value to oil & gas companies.
To seize this value, it is critical for the industry to work on identifying the most valuable early uses of the technology. This will help oil & gas companies to build competency and confidence in the technology to maximise its potential.
Finally, to move 3D printing into a more mainstream use within oil & gas, the technology must advance to meet robust performance and industry safety standards.
There are a lot of research initiatives already taking place with the goal of qualifying the 3D printing processes and materials for use in oil & gas.
For example, Nanyang Technological University and a global quality assurance company, DNL GL, have recently signed a four-year research collaboration agreement. The agreement will focus on developing industry standards, quality assurance processes and certification for 3D printing in the maritime and oil & gas industries.
Given the current rate of adoption and standardisation, we predict that oil & gas companies will begin incorporating 3D printing into their supply chains within the next 5 to 10 years.
Stage: Early mainstream
The industrial goods sector encompasses the production of machinery components, tooling and equipment used in the manufacture of other goods. For this sector, 3D printing offers a range of benefits, including shorter lead times, new design opportunities and on-demand production.
Thanks to these benefits and the maturation of the technology and materials, 3D printing is now increasingly used in applications ranging from tooling to machinery components and spare parts.
For example, one of the world’s largest capital goods companies, CNH Industrial, has recently announced it will be introducing 3D printing into its manufacturing processes. The key area of focus will be the production of spare parts for buses and agricultural equipment.
The company has already identified the first four parts that will be manufactured in plastic, but will soon be looking to add metal 3D printing to its capabilities soon. Eventually, CNH Industrial hopes to produce a full range of parts using 3D printing to “respond to all types of needs at every stage of the product’s lifecycle.”
The capital goods manufacturer is not the first specialty equipment company to realise the value of 3D-printed spare parts. In construction, Caterpillar has been exploring the use of 3D printing for spare parts for several years. Siemens Mobility, too, has begun 3D printing spare parts for its rail service.
Furthermore, the maturation of desktop 3D printers and their shift to industrial side facilitates the adoption of 3D printing for tooling applications like jigs and fixtures.
Meanwhile, sand 3D printers are increasingly put into service in foundries to make sand cores and moulds for parts in heavy equipment and machinery. Sand 3D printing is useful in its ability to produce moulds with substantially less lead times and less opportunity for human error than traditional methods.
To sum up
3D printing for industrial goods has clearly reached the early mainstream stage, with many major companies implementing the technology to make end-use and spare parts.
The industrial goods industry has already begun to reap the benefits of 3D printing. To build on this progress, the industry needs to collaborate on standardisation and research activities. This will help to identify more suitable use cases and increase confidence in the technology.
In the consumer goods industry, the application of 3D printing is mostly focused on creating prototypes used in the product design and development stages.
Although rapid prototyping remains a key application, the true potential of the technology may lie in the direct manufacturing of consumer products. The key benefits of using 3D printing to produce end-use consumer products include cost-effective customisation and greater design freedom.
As of 2019, footwear, eyewear, jewellery and bike manufacturing are the biggest segments leveraging 3D printing in production.
The eyewear industry has been a forerunner in using 3D printing for end-use production. Berlin eyewear company, Mykita GmbH, launched the world’s first 3D-printed eyewear collection as far back as 2011. The company uses polymer SLS technology and nylon material to create frames for its MYLON collection of sunglasses.
Furthermore, the footwear industry is making significant investments to develop digital footwear manufacturing workflows to enable faster innovation and mass-customisation.
For this, brands like adidas, Nike, New Balance, Reebok and Under Armor are adopting 3D printing technologies like SLS, SLA and Carbon’s DLS to introduce 3D-printed elements like midsoles and insoles into their footwear.
In the jewellery segment, 3D printing benefits jewellery makers in two ways. The first is by 3D printing investment casting patterns, which are cheaper and faster to produce than traditional methods.
A second approach is to 3D print jewellery directly using precious metals. Both methods enable custom jewellery with thin walls and intricate details to be created which would be impossible to make through other means.
Bike manufacturers, too, are introducing 3D printing into their production. This new opportunity is largely driven by the maturing composite 3D printing technology. By using composite 3D printing, bike manufacturers can create customised bikes faster and easier than with more established methods.
Admittedly, the adoption rates of 3D printing even within these sectors of the consumer goods industry are still relatively low, especially when compared to pioneering industries like aerospace and medical.
For most consumer goods companies, implementing a 3D printing production line is not economically viable, at least for now. For one, the production volumes in 3D printing cannot currently compete with the volumes achieved with conventional manufacturing.
Yet, even when the cost-effectiveness of 3D printing improves, it is unlikely that the technology will ever completely replace mass production methods in any consumer goods market subsector.
To sum up
Despite the many new applications of 3D printing within the consumer goods sector, the technology is still in the earlier stages of adoption, particularly when compared to industries like aerospace and medical. Production volumes are also lower compared to established methods like injection moulding.
However, as the technology becomes more scalable, the next five years will see more consumer goods companies piloting 3D printing for end-use applications. This will help to identify the applications and products that can benefit most from the technology, and enable companies to being introducing it into their production workflows.
Industrialising 3D printing
From aerospace to consumer goods, industries are embracing 3D printing to make better products faster, and to optimise their operations.
However, adoption rates of the technology vary across industries. The rates are highest in industries that produce high-value parts in low volumes, such as aerospace and medical, or where faster product development and customisation are required, such as in the automotive and consumer goods industries.
The largest value-generating opportunities offered by 3D printing include improved product functionality, higher production efficiency, greater customisation, shorter time-to-market and on-demand spare parts, particularly for asset-heavy industries.
For this reason, companies within the aerospace, medical, automotive and industrial goods industries are accelerating their investment in the technology.
That said, there are still certain barriers to overcome before the technology enjoys truly widespread adoption. These include standardisation of materials and processes, lower production costs and greater repeatability and reliability.
3D printer manufacturers and other industry stakeholders are meeting these challenges head-on. They are addressing these limitations by enhancing machines with closed-loop control systems, partnering to develop standards and improving workflows with automation.
The manufacturing ecosystem is changing very rapidly, partly thanks to the growing capabilities of 3D printing technologies. To thrive in this ecosystem, companies should start thinking beyond 3D printing for prototyping and map out strategies for what they can achieve by using the technology for production.