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3D printing moves from prototypes to production

Lucas Mearian | May 2, 2014
As market quadruples to US$12B in 10 years, it'll increasingly be used to make complex parts in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to electronics.

The sale of 3D printers alone will be worth $3.2 billion, while another $2 billion in revenue will come from thermo polymers and other formulated materials used for printing. The lion's share of the market — $7 billion worth — will come from the value of the products produced by 3D printers, according to Lux Research.

"We're seeing the highest growth rates in the manufacturing side," Vicari said. "We're seeing manufacturing growing from a small share of the market — 12% today — to 46% of the market in 2025."

For example, General Electric this year plans to use 3D printing to create complex metal parts for its next generation next-generation GE9X and Leap models engine.

Commercial airplane manufacturer Airbus saves millions of dollars in parts production and fuel costs by shaving off the gross weight of an aircraft through 3D printing. Its vision is far more radical than parts, though, and someday it plans to completely print a 3D plane, according to Curtis Carson, head of systems integration, at the Airbus Centre of Competence Manufacturing Engineering.

"When you look at the 40 million components in an aircraft, that means our stock and inventories use up a significant amount of money," Carson said at the "Inside 3D Printing Conference" earlier this month in New York.

Being able to produce parts on an "as needed" basis reduces the need for inventory, Carson said.

Additionally, by using 3D printings "additive manufacturing" process, versus the traditional "subtractive manufacturing" process involved in lathing machine parts, waste materials drop from 90% to 5% to 10%, he said.

"It's called buy to fly. How much material do we buy and how much of that material ends up flying," Carson said. "It's as simple as that. If you can buy and fly exactly what you purchase, you're able to optimize 100% in terms of the aircraft. Who wouldn't be excited about doing something like this?"

3D printing
Of all of the 3D printing market sectors, parts production is expected to grow the most over the next decade (Image: Lux Research).

Market is shifting
Among the Lux Research report's findings is that the price of printing materials currently are an impediment to industry growth. Much like 2D print makers, manufacturers often sell printing materials at a steep markup - 10 to 100 times over what it costs them.

While the markup was tolerated when companies only used 3D printers for prototyping parts, it it remains a major impediment to the use of the technology for production parts. 3D printing leaders such as 3D Systems, Stratasys and EOS have restricted third-party material suppliers from entering the market, the Lux Research report says.


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