Additive Manufacturing in 2022: The Ultimate Rundown

23 December 2022
3d printing hand

3D printing has been dipping into the mainstream for quite some time now. In 2022, the technology’s industrial prevalence has shed any former trace of vulnerability, no longer held up solely by hype or potential, but by concrete, proven results. 

Specifically, this year has marked an exciting shift in attitude industry-wide towards additive manufacturing. Identifying ‘potential’ no longer involves shoving another idealistic vision into the pipeline, with growing years of experience and development coming under the technology’s name. R&D is reaching new levels of seriousness. 

This is interestingly exhibited in Hubs’ ‘Hype cycle depicting the popularity of 3D printing over time’, contained within their 3D Printing Trend Report 2022:

 

Graph representing 3D printing hype over time
[Image Credit: Hubs]

 

Though 2012-2013 witnessed a dramatic spike in excitement surrounding AM, interest quickly plummeted over the following years. Yet, more importantly than this moment of piqued interest, the ensuing slow-climbing ‘hype’ reveals a more steadily founded excitement, much less inclined to sink.

Crucially in Hubs’ graph, 2022 has been caught in an increasingly gentle upwards curve, threatening a potential plateau. In this way, this year has contributed towards the fate of this line’s progress, determining whether or not growth in anticipation is likely to fall once more. Fortunately, this does not seem to be the case. 

AM mass and serial production, increased levels of automation, more sophisticated workflows and widening material selections: following the many AM focused breakthroughs characterising teh year, these technologies have secured relevance and applicability in the long term.

However, whilst some members of the community are comfortably looking back over bygone days when current advancements were just possibilities, other aspects of 3D printing still have much to do in terms of seizing and realising opportunities for growth.

Leaders in the AM space have taken too much comfort in identifying the abstract opportunity for sustainability, for example, a theme running potently throughout many industry publications. As 2023 comes into view, the same effort must be channelled into turning these prospects into implemented reality. 

Extracting a single, defining characteristic of 365 days is, of course, a hefty task, especially when the sector at hand branches off in so many different directions.  

To tackle this, we have identified 5 key focal points falling under the umbrella term of ‘additive manufacturing’, yet each hosting unique interests and developments; these include ‘industry’, ‘materials’, ‘technologies’, ‘products’, and ‘software’. 

2022 has been a year of setting substantial change into motion, setting an important pattern for both the technology’s future, and the manufacturing sphere’s continued betterment. 

1) Industry 

 

factory skyline
[Image Credit: Maksym Kaharlytskyi via. Unsplash]

Industrial attention towards additive manufacturing in 2022 was marked by two things: deepened trust in the technology’s reliability, and greater chances for expansion coming consequent. 

Protolabs’ Hubs company predicts that the global 3D printing market will reach $44.5 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 24%. This statistic comes hot on the heels of this year’s growth, moving upwards of around 14 billion in 2021 according to various market reports, though as Formnext’s magazine fon claims, “ongoing supply chain disruptions prevented an even stronger growth”. 

AM has consequently garnered greater authority within the market, attracting attention from higher echelon organisations.

Sculpteo’s 2022 report on the 3D printing sector notes that 15% of companies investing in the technology amass more than 10 million in revenue annually, this group being the second largest adopter of the technology just under companies earning up to 100k yearly. These results are revealingly extreme, with the lowest and highest revenue businesses respectively constituting the top AM users. High level enterprises are increasingly taking 3D printing seriously as a commercial asset, where smaller businesses have conventionally been more drawn to it. 

In turn, the revenue expectations for 3D printing businesses has soared, leading to increasing instances of investment in this space. According to the Wohler’s report 2022, companies focused on additive manufacturing are increasingly receiving significant rounds of funding as trust in the technology’s future growth enhances. As the report articulates, “the investment community is optimistic and betting part of its future on the success of AM”. AMFG’s own recent round of investment comes as a testament to this phenomenon. 

Reviewing additive manufacturing in 2022 from an industrial perspective, the insights cast by market reports such as those listed so far is enlightening. However, paying attention not only to the answers the papers give, but also to the questions they ask in the first place, can be just as revealing. 

Following this reasoning, it’s interesting to note that almost every market breakdown from 2022 takes a deep dive into additive manufacturing and sustainability. Sculpteo’s report claims that 81% of respondents are following sustainable objectives, whilst Hubs is ardent that “3D printing has the potential to enhance the sustainability of manufacturing”. 

What is emerging, however, is the lack of concrete progress towards actually achieving said ‘potential’. 90% of companies revealed that environmental initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and COP26 scarcely impacted their operations (Hubs). It is vital that the growing investment in the AM market is put towards actually realising these objectives as we move into 2023. 

2) Materials

 

3D printing a starfish
[Image Credit: Autodesk]

As IDTechEx’s 2022-2023 ‘3D Printing Materials Market’ overview articulates well, “with every new material launch comes an additional application for 3D printing to explore”. In 2022, this has been truer than ever, with material development at the forefront of the AM space’s R&D to forward precisely this expansion of use-cases. 

Numerous development centres have cropped up in 2022, sectioning material advancement off and thus establishing its importance as an independent research domain.

Multinational chemicals company Linde announced the development of a new laboratory, dedicated towards studying atmospheric gases used to manufacture metal powders. Following metal AM’s rising prominence over the past few years, demand for innovative materials through which to further hone these promising processes has heightened, a command which Linde’s facility will endeavour to meet. Linde’s test bench laboratory is predicted to reach full operability in mid March of 2023. 

Encompassing a broader scope, 3D printer company Roboze also unveiled the launch of a materials-focused laboratory in 2022, explicitly dedicated to the development of ‘super materials’. Specifically, the company’s goal is to steer industries away from petroleum based super polymers and towards new bio-based alternatives. 

Founder and CEO of Roboze, Alessio Lorusso, explains that the move solidifies their forward-looking business model, “constantly question[ing] the status quo of what is thought feasible and what seems futuristic, giving a precise date to this second category”. This approach, working hard to narrow the gap between ‘idealistic’ and ‘feasible’, exemplifies the overarching attitude of the AM industry in 2022. 

In fact, Roboze’s development is not representative in one way alone. With the laboratory specifically directed towards accelerating the transition to sustainable manufacturing”, the theme surfaces once again of sustainability’s increased centrality within the AM space. Formlabs’ 3D Printing Applications Report notices just this trend: “where historically there has been a focus on strength, production consistency and supporting a wide range of polymer and metal applications” in the advancement of AM materials, “sustainability is now the driving force for innovation”. 

Sculpteo’s report reveals that 63% of AM users are looking for the opportunity to recycle 3D printed parts, a potential in which materials optimisation is playing a critical role. Furthermore, 59% cited ‘development of more sustainable materials’ as central to reducing the technology’s environmental impact. 

In this way, the statement from Formlabs can just as equally be flipped: materials innovation in particular is becoming a driving force of improved sustainability within the 3D printing sphere.

3) Technologies

 

Laser based 3D printing
[Image Credit: DMG MORI]

Formnext’s fon magazine 2022 asserts that “the key drivers of [AM’s] expansion will include the variety and perspectives offered by innovative AM technologies, some of which are still in their nascency”. The maturation of additive manufacturing hardware is promising to make room for even greater advancement than the fast-growing sphere is already bearing witness to. 

One notable advantage borne through this impending technological progress is an increase in productivity. Mass production has long loomed on the horizon for 3D printing; making it simpler for 3D printing to cater for the demanding consumer market, new technological innovation could significantly broaden the scope for high volume production. 

This goal has gained clarification over the course of this year, spearheaded by a number of exciting R&D projects stretching the boundaries of AM production with technological creativity. Various mechanical parameters can impact productivity, with individual companies finding their niche in targeting and resolving particular bottlenecks within the AM workflow. 

Liqtra GmbH, for instance, is quite literally increasing print volume with their 7 nozzle FFF printing process. Instead of opting for workaround solutions such as increasing print speeds, the company has instead broadened the physical output of their machine. This enables the production of large components in a fraction of the time normally required, with Liqtra claiming an increase in productivity by up to 300%. 

Branching away from 3D printers themselves, Rivelin Robotics has pinpointed a different constriction to increased output in their NetShape robots, designed to automatically remove the supports attached to parts. Post-processing is an integral aspect of the AM product lifecycle, often requiring manual intervention. With this technology, Rivelin promises a 90% reduction in errors, simplifying necessary processes and securing shorter lead times for production. 

Alongside the ardent development of new approaches, the tried and tested technologies frequented most often are becoming increasingly familiar to users.

This year, according to Sculpteo, industrial 3D printing techniques such as SLS and MJF are increasingly moving in-house. Furthermore, Hubspot has identified an uptick in desktop machine sales, indicating that manufacturers are increasingly taking operations into their own hands. 

A dynamic reinforcement of technological capabilities has taken place this year. 2022 has hosted both the development of new technologies and a greater understanding of those that are most widely employed. 

4) Products

 

3D printed landscape model
[Image Credit: EOS]

Design freedom has long been a locus of excitement for advocates of additive manufacturing. In 2022, this perception has only solidified: as Formlabs reports, almost 80% of AM users believe that 3D printing will transform the conventions of product design.

In fact, of the various benefits attributed to AM’s employment, acceleration of the product development process was identified as holding highest significance to manufacturers this year. 

Two themes have continued to emerge in this realm: customisation and mass production, with the dawn of mass customisation even beginning to enter the picture. Advantages abound with these production possibilities on the table, both in commercial contexts and otherwise. 

End-part consumer goods manufacturers, on one hand, are turning to AM to deliver unique customisation options. Hasbro’s new ‘Selfie Series’ of action figures has made headlines in recent media, offering buyers the unique opportunity to print their faces onto a posable figurine. Following its success, Forbes was quick to ask whether the popularity of the series could even catalyse a market-wide surge in mass customisation going forward. 

On the other hand, entering a different realm completely, 3D printing’s customisation capacities are acquiring rising prominence within multiple medical sectors.

As Hubs’ 2022 report mentions, dentistry has been a particularly fast-growing adopter of the technology; Formlabs’ ‘Form 3’ SLA desktop printer series is marketed specifically towards this medical quarter, offering bespoke production of mouthpieces ranging from dentures to retainers. Similarly, AM is often adopted for customised orthotics production, treating those suffering from foot-related distress. From head to toe, additive manufacturing can just as powerfully cater to a user’s ‘needs’ as it can to their ‘wants’.

This trend towards end-part production in AM, shaping up to slowly but surely pose competition to prototyping’s use-cases, has risen notably this year, a movement strikingly driven primarily by recent investors in the technology. In fact, within this portion of the additive manufacturing demographic, the application already established dominance. Formlabs’ report observes that 63% of recent adopters either frequently or always use 3D printing specifically for producing end-use parts.

Contrasting with the sole 33% of early adopters veering towards this purpose, this direction is set to carve a stronger mark in coming production tendencies, as new swathes of manufacturers venture into AM’s exciting technological grounds. 

5) Software

 

Software clipart
[Image Credit: Accenture]

More and more, AM-specific software is adopting a position as an engine for the technology’s growth, driving the race towards AM’s widespread implementation.

Whilst there are many ways in which software can simplify production – from organising vast quantities of information to providing insightful data analysis – one functional aspect has gathered particular attention during 2022. Automation. 

Of the factors that will allow 3D printing to become “broadly recognised as a fully mature, fully scalable industrial manufacturing technology”, Hubs’ report is firm in its conviction that “automation [is] topping the list”. Good reason backs this assertion. 

 

3D printing success indicators graph
[Image Credit: Sculpteo]

As indicated in Sculpteo’s assessment of how AM users value success, speed is heralded above every other consideration – ‘speed of innovation’ and ‘lead time’ seize the top positions, with 80% and 66% of users respectively holding these factors in especially high regard. 3D printing’s ideal manifestation features rapidity and efficiency above all. 

Though businesses can take many approaches towards hitting this ideal, software is demonstrating again and again an unmatched aptitude for delivering results. Larger businesses, as we have seen, are making the move to AM; in high stakes business contexts of this kind, the control granted over production by software solutions is not only desirable, but imperative. 

Yet, the advantages of implementing automation software do not stop with the deliverance of speed. Far from that, a vast array of use-cases have lead 3D printing businesses of all kinds to turn towards a digital solution. At AMFG, our client base is excitingly varied, each coming to us with unique blockers to success or areas for improvement. Equipped with breadth, depth, and a team invigorated by a challenge, AMFG’s software solution is designed to adapt to each business, wherever their priorities lie. Our team is always happy to discuss solutions – simply book a demo and schedule some time for a chat.

Expanding technologies, expanding materials, expanding use-cases – the breadth of 3D printing’s reach is steadily ticking upwards. The organisational touchpoint provided by software can centrally keep businesses on track as they enter uncertain and unfamiliar terrain. 

 

3D Printing’s True Forte: Flexibility

 

Despite the direction that we have taken in this article, breaking the AM space down into separate divisions, its strength largely depends on the ways in which these sectors overlap and support each other.

New material developments give way to new product possibilities – take Federica Cristaudo and 3D printer company Caracol’s luxury furniture 3D printed from seashells, or Odette Lunettes’ eyewear printed using castor beans. Similarly, new technologies influence the type, quality and quantity of products which AM can feasibly create. Mass production, for instance, is beginning to reach realisation by way of the incredible machines entering the market, a subject which we covered in our top hardware overview. 

The layers of interaction between materials, technologies, products, and software in 3D printing all, of course, contribute towards the technology’s industrial role on a global scale. As of 2022’s conclusion, the outlook in this regard is bright. However, embarking on a new calendar year, it cannot be ignored that a degree of uncertainty lies ahead. 

The looming evidence of recession has been a talking point throughout manufacturing circles. Having already just emerged from the disruptive conditions of a global pandemic, a new threat is waiting in the wings. 

What has been demonstrated time and time again over these past few years, however, is additive manufacturing’s power as a growing sector to not only soldier on in the face of difficulty, but to provide necessary aid when it is needed most. 

From supplying PPE during pandemic shortages, to its identification as a key player in U.S reshoring initiatives, 3D printing’s flexibility makes it a perfect creative medium for confronting unfamiliar challenges. 

As the manufacturing sector heads into 2023, advanced additive technologies are perfectly equipped to meet and defeat the challenges of the future.

 

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