4 Important Trends Shaping Additive Manufacturing in 202225 October 2022
Since additive manufacturing first moved into the spotlight around the beginning of the 21st century, it has been subject to ceaseless and rapid development.
3D printing’s influence has scattered itself throughout every corner of the world’s industrial landscape. As an inherently forward-thinking technology, tackling the shortcomings that traditional manufacturing methods have for decades been grappling with, it firmly roots itself within Industry 4.0’s amplifying presence.
Whilst AM’s rising impact is undeniably exhilarating, the sheer depth and breadth of the possibilities it unfolds can make it difficult for individual companies to find their footing when seeking to capitalise on the technology’s benefits.
Shifting focus away from the myriad of developments and discoveries cropping up in daily manufacturing news, and looking towards the big picture, this article strives to document some of the major trends tying additive manufacturing’s overall advancement together.
With 2022 beginning to wind its way towards conclusion, the natural impulse is to turn towards what 2023 has in store. We’ve broken down the primary points of interest that have either recently emerged or received reinforcement within the 3D printing realm, promising to become integral to the field’s development going forward.
Increase in End-Use Part Production
Rapid prototyping still remains the central use-case for 3D printing, demonstrating just how successfully it has been able to fulfil the purpose for which it was initially invented.
However, in 2022, a separate implementation of AM has slowly risen to prominence, encroaching on prototyping’s continued dominance: end-use part manufacturing.
According to Formlabs’ 2022 report, 63% of recent 3D printing adopters (those with under two years worth of experience) either frequently or always use the technology to produce end-use parts, compared to only 33% of seasoned 3D printing adopters (those whose usage exceeds two years). This striking dichotomy between the two groups’ applications, tipping from minority to majority, strongly indicates an ongoing shift in AM’s perceived ‘best uses’ amongst newcomers.
With machines undergoing perpetual advancement and the list of 3D printer compatible materials continuing to unravel, the range and quality of producible parts has accordingly expanded. Previously used mainly to generate artefacts that serve only temporary roles, as initial experiments or visualisations of thought processes, AM goods can now be considered finalised products in and of themselves, made individually available on shop shelves or integrated into larger structures.
Though prototyping and end-use endeavours seem to grow as rival use-cases for AM, these two modes of production can work in equally exciting harmony.
South Korean helmet manufacturer KIDO Sports Co., for instance, have employed AM prototyping towards developing their goods. Removing the need for outsourcing production, and reducing the time engineers previously spent laboriously manufacturing individual components, AM’s implementation significantly streamlined design proceedings, expanding their creative parameters.
At the same time, innovation studio nFrontier has incorporated 3D printing into the construction of their smart cycling helmet, PYLO. The company employed Stratasys’ printers F370 and J55 to assemble the inner lining of the helmet, improving its resistance to physical stress whilst also ensuring comfort for the cyclist.
Very similar products benefit from AM at disparate stages of their development, proving the breadth of the technology’s application scope. With the introduction of end-use purposes to additive manufacturing’s ambit, space is opened for the technology to permeate every stage in a product’s lifecycle.
In a 2018 article from AMFG assessing the relevance of additive manufacturing to end part production, it was concluded that ‘3D printing won’t be competing with traditional manufacturing methods’ any time soon where end-use goods are concerned, though it was noted as having the ‘potential to transform the way certain parts and products are produced’.
This judgement comes from a pre-pandemic perspective. As is frequently noted, 3D printing proved integral to alleviating pandemic-induced shortages, distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies in periods of critical demand. On the heels of this burst of success, AM’s wider applications to end-use purposes are steadily unfolding.
In 2022, the article’s statement no longer holds up. With more and more AM adopters specifically investing in the technology to produce ‘final products’, the transformation pinpointed as mere ‘potential’ is beginning to enter reality.
Advancement of New Materials
With the uses for additive manufacturing increasingly broadening, 2022 has featured a keenness to push the boundaries of printable materials, inventing new substances and improving their properties with each iteration.
In the past, low-cost thermoplastics prevailed as the go-to material for AM operations. Over recent years, however, material development has positioned itself as crucial to the 3D printing sphere’s advancement as a whole. With end-use applications reaching feasibility, it is more important than ever that additively manufactured products can offer qualitative superiority over traditionally manufactured items.
According to Hubs’ survey of engineering and 3D printing communities in their ‘3D Printing Trend Report 2022’, 44% of participants cited new materials and composites as this year’s top development. This maps smoothly onto IDTechEx’s market forecast, expecting 3D printing materials to hit $29.5 billion in revenue by 2032.
So far, a number of properties specific to 3D printed materials have earned the technology a solid reputation. High performance polymers, for instance, have associated additive manufacturing methods with premium quality results. Highly resistant to intense temperatures and extreme stress, whilst also possible to form into complex geometries, their suitability to a plethora of applications has invested them with an unmatched desirability. Alongside this, metals like titanium and steel are frequently employed in AM, particularly useful in manufacturing parts for industrial uses. Ceramic materials such as alumina and zirconia can also notably be 3D printed, extremely strong and lightweight but difficult to manufacture traditionally, thus lending AM a competitive edge.
The drive to forward material development also holds resonance on an environmental scale. Though 3D printing has ample potential for producing environmentally friendly products, the AM sphere still has considerable space to grow.
Polylactic acid (PLA), for example, is the most widely used ‘ecological’ polymer, composed of biodegradable substances such as cassava or corn. However, items made using this material can only truly decompose under very specific aerobic contexts, rendering it just as harmful as classic plastics when simply left out in the open.
Yet, alternatives are beginning to emerge. Estonian eco-tech company Filaret recently introduced their 3D printing filament consisting of recycled cigarette stubs, for instance. Indeed, PLA is itself undergoing development; only a few days ago, researchers discovered that pineapple waste could reinforce the polymer upon integration, augmenting the degree to which it can make an environmental difference.
3D printing technology developer Roboze lately invested in the construction of an enormous laboratory entirely devoted to developing ‘super materials’, intending to combine ‘eco-sustainability with cutting-edge performance’, according to founder and CEO of Roboze, Alezzio Lorusso. The trend towards improving AM materials will not be slowing down any time soon.
Growing Need for MES & Workflow Software
As 3D printing’s strengths continue to climb, companies are increasingly inclined towards either integrating AM into their processes for the first time, or scaling up their pre-existing operations.
In order for additive manufacturers to harvest this technology’s benefits to its full extent, a system of organising and optimising their processes must be established. No matter how efficient manual processes may seem, a point will always be reached where such management structures threaten to absorb more time, money and creativity than the operations they are designed to oversee. This is where software comes in.
Software runs a singular thread throughout the numerous stages involved in manufacturing, connecting disparate parts and pulling them into a coherent whole. Providing a point of contact between manufacturers and distributors, customers and sellers, sales representatives and engineers, it expands the horizons of what is physically and logistically possible where 3D printing is concerned.
Deciding to invest in software capable of supporting and enhancing AM operations is just as important a decision as choosing to invest in one 3D printer over another. In each case, the choice will drastically affect both the efficiency of the process and the quality of the result.
It is no wonder, then, that additive manufacturing software is sharpening its abilities to new and exciting degrees, not only to keep up with the technology’s incredible growth, but to actively boost it.
AMFG’s end-to-end MES & workflow software offers an integral foundation of this kind. The tools the platform bestows, from instant quotation and production management to machine connectivity and data analytics, are perpetually being honed and expanded alongside and in communication with the unfolding additive manufacturing sphere.
It is an exciting time to be writing from a leading software company’s perspective. The atmosphere is charged with a constantly evolving excitement, celebrating what has been achieved and eagerly anticipating what could be done next. The future of additive manufacturing software, and software’s wider significance within digital manufacturing as a whole, is incredibly promising.
Movement Towards Sustainability
Sustainability as an overarching theme has long been weighing on the manufacturing field’s collective mind.
With pressure building to overturn harmful habits and forge new ones, many have turned to additive manufacturing as a revolutionary alternative, offering modes of sustainable production whilst simultaneously presenting tough competition to traditional manufacturing modes in other respects. Nonetheless, as the research surrounding PLA has proven, 3D printing has a long way to go to actually fulfil this idealistic image.
According to Hubs’ 2022 report, ‘the industry has some catching up to do in terms of transforming potential into consistent action’; 88% of the companies they surveyed agreed that though sustainability measures have been discussed, there is little indication of tangible actions being carried out. Furthermore, a new report by Underwriters Laboratories has found that FFF 3D printers can expel potentially harmful emissions, capable of causing cellular damage and making it critical to follow biosafety measures during printing processes.
However, these current limitations should not overshadow the immense opportunity that 3D printing has to offer, constantly subject to eager R&D expanding its ecological scope.
Already, many industries are discovering AM’s expansiveness, from printing bottles using recyclable plastics and producing 3D printed wind turbines, to designing lighter vehicle parts for the aviation and automation industries, reducing air pollution. 2022 has witnessed multiple AM companies excelling in their contributions to forwarding sustainability, such as GREENFILL3D’s achievement of the ‘ECOInvestor in the Food Industry’ award, and 6K Additive’s attainment of AMGTA’s ‘Environmental Sustainability Research Award’. Furthermore, Stratasys, the company behind 3D printing’s invention, published their first ever environmental report this year. Steps are indubitably being taken in the right direction.
3dpbm’s 2022 report ‘AM Sustainability’ articulates well the importance of maintaining excitement for impending innovation, even in light of 3D printing’s current setbacks: ‘saying that AM for sustainability is a given may not be accurate. But it may be accurate to say that AM is the only way for industrial production to eventually become sustainable’. Recognition of such shortcomings and reinforcement of sustainability initiatives thus carves its place not only as a 2022 motif, but as a permanent consideration and inclination going forward.
Though this article has offered a rundown of ‘trends’, phenomena defined by their impermanence, ‘sustainability’ is one movement which is set to become concrete within the AM sphere. The pace is climbing to optimise additive manufacturing towards securing a better future for us all.
An Organically Growing Space
As has been increasingly unveiled throughout the course of this piece, the different tendencies and focal points currently characterising the additive manufacturing scene are deeply interlinked with one another.
Increase in end-part production necessitates the improvement of the materials used. The prioritisation of sustainability opens up the need for more end-use printing jobs. In turn, the general expansion of the landscape catalysed by larger-scale production and high-quality materials requires the efficient management implemented through MES software.
In such ways, 3D printing technology is evolving in an excitingly organic and self-sustaining manner. A singular development in a specific AM field often catalyses progress in other AM domains at the same time.
Though challenges lay ahead, advancements in this realm are multifaceted and constant. From here on outwards, the only way is up.
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