May 9, 2016 | By Tess

The world’s largest package delivery company, UPS, recently teamed up with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to release a report detailing how the 3D printing industry is expected to grow over the next four years. The report, which explores how the technology could be disruptive in the manufacturing market, how it compares to traditional manufacturing processes, its supply chain impact, and the technological advancements on the horizon for the additive manufacturing industry, has found that in 2016 the 3D printing industry will reach $7.3 billion, and by 2020 it is expected to grow to $21 billion.

The report, entitled 3D Printing: The Next Revolution in Industrial Manufacturing, shows that the additive manufacturing primary market, which consists of 3D printing systems, materials, supplies, and services, has grown by 30% a year between 2012 and 2014, and is expected to keep growing. The rest of the growth for the industry will come from the secondary market, which consists of molding, casting, and tooling processes. As many other reports have also shown, North America and Europe are currently dominating revenues from the 3D printing market (accounting for 68% of them, 40% North America, and 28% Europe), while Asian and Pacific countries are accounting for 27% of the total revenue.

In terms of industries that have adopted 3D printing technologies, the report shows that the consumer electronics industry and the automotive industry each account for 20% of total 3D printing revenue, while the medical device industry, which benefits from the customization afforded by 3D printing, contributes 15% of the total revenue. Notably, the report indicates that the American hearing aid industry, which manufactures all of its hearing aids using 3D printing technologies, successfully converted to the technology in under two years, showing promise for other comparable areas.

In a breakdown of how 3D printing is currently used in manufacturing processes, the report indicates that 29% of 3D printed parts are used as functional parts, 18% are used as prototypes, 10% are used for molds and tooling, while another 10% are used as visual aids. As UPS and CTA point out, the manufacturing market is “a market ripe for disruption. Technology adopters that move beyond prototyping to use 3D printing in supporting and streamlining production can achieve new manufacturing efficiencies. Plus, there is an enormous opportunity for companies that get it right.”

Of course, 3D printing will not be the solution for all manufacturing needs, as the report suggests that for high volume production traditional methods such as injection molding will still be better suited. The areas in which 3D printing could be optimized for manufacturing businesses are prototyping (25%), product development (16%), innovation (11%), increased efficiency (10%), and cost reduction (9%). As we know, 3D printing can offer manufacturers advantages in producing small batch runs, in creating cost and time efficient customized products, and in creating structurally complex and materially efficient parts. All of these advantages offered by 3D printing have also presented solutions to a number of supply chain challenges.

While many companies in the manufacturing industry have begun to adopt 3D printing technologies, the report suggests that the technology’s potentials are still far from being realized. According to the companies surveyed for the study, 32% of current 3D printing users believed they were not “fully leveraging the advantages of 3D printing”, while 45% of intending users said they would begin to use additive manufacturing technologies if they were better understood by their company.

In looking to the future, the report lays out some key areas where 3D printing will likely advance, which include faster equipment speeds, new and enhanced materials, advanced printing technology, and a number of additional capabilities. As we see ourselves, day after day, 3D printing technologies continue to advance at quick rates, with faster machines and more efficient materials being released on the regular. According to the study, by 2023, printing speeds are expected to increase by a significant 88%, which could make 3D printing even more viable for manufacturing purposes.

In terms of materials, metal material development is expected to grow more quickly than plastic, as manufacturers’  primary interest lies with metal 3D printing materials. 84% of responders to a 2015 survey indicated they wanted to see growth in metal 3D printing materials, while  61% and 60% expressed a preference in rubber-like materials and high temperature plastic, respectively. Future prospects for additional capabilities of 3D printing technologies, include such areas as 3D printed electronics, which is already on the rise.

Ultimately, the report concludes that 3D printing technologies are on the rise and are on the way to disrupting the manufacturing industry. It says, “3D printing presents compelling business opportunities. Companies that wait too long to explore the potential could be missing out.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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