In this Tech Briefs roundtable, five industry experts share their perspectives and future outlook for AM.

According to Grand View Research’s “Additive Manufacturing Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Component, by Printer Type, by Technology, by Software, by Application, by Vertical, by Material, by Region, and Segment Forecasts, 2022-2030” report, the global additive manufacturing (AM) market size is estimated to reach $76.16 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 20.8 percent.

The report attributes growth of the market to the increasing adoption of AM in industrial applications for enhancing production and shortening the time to market. Which metal and polymer-based AM technologies are seeing significant growth? Will automotive, healthcare, and aerospace and defense continue to be the biggest users of AM or other industries will foster its growth? In this Tech Briefs roundtable, five industry experts share their perspectives and future outlook for AM.

Our roundtable participants include:

Tech Briefs: The global COVID-19 pandemic hit the additive manufacturing industry hard but it’s on a rebound. What factors are accelerating the growth of AM?

Brent Stucker: Since the COVID pandemic, a key primary driver for AM is the strain on supply chains. With any crisis, organizations are forced to adapt to survive. Over the last two years, we’ve seen many companies that are reevaluating their standard manufacturing practices, and in doing so, are open to new ways of overcoming challenges. In parallel, we’ve seen a more competitive landscape amongst 3D printing and AM solution providers. Our industry has matured to a point that allows us to shift our innovation focus from just printing platforms to also focusing on software, materials, and digital workflows to enable the direct production of a broader range of applications. This gives us the opportunity to offer manufacturers more sophisticated solutions to address their most challenging needs.

Avi Reichental: I believe the growth is accelerated by two key drivers. One, the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the fact that we need to rethink the antiquated supply chain strategies that rely on minimum order quantities (typically from locations far away from point of use) to drive individual component prices down. This is both costly and unsustainable. The impracticality of this approach is especially made apparent during catastrophic and unpredictable events like health pandemics and global socio-economic crises like a war in Ukraine, for example. This newfound revelation is what is and will continue to fuel the notion of producing goods on-demand, and in the quantities, you need them, when you need them, as close to point of sale/use as possible. This approach reduces supply chain risk, drives down total costs, and reduces the overall carbon footprint. Second, I think the continued technological advancements, material developments, industry mergers, and consolidations will continue to further proliferate the use and adoption of additive technologies across just about every industry.

Shai Terem: Supply chain disruption and geopolitical issues, notably the war in Ukraine, tariffs with China, and inflation, are making it more difficult for manufacturers to get the critical parts they need to keep operations running smoothly. These pain points are pushing manufacturers to explore new methods to onshore their supply chains for resiliency and flexibility. AM with functional capabilities at the point of need is a great solution. When it gets harder to rely on external sources, the use of AM allows manufacturers to print parts on site in a matter of hours or days, instead of the months it might take to get what they need from across the world. This strategy is helping manufacturers bring products to market faster and with fewer disruptions. 3D printing with the ability to make mission critical parts on demand is helping manufacturers build flexibility and resiliency, which hasn’t been the case for the past couple of years.

Benny Buller: We experienced some of our most impressive growth during the COVID-19 period. However, we were still in our early years. But I do agree that we are seeing accelerating growth of the AM industry and part of it is due to COVID-19. The pandemic showed the world that we have some serious weaknesses in our supply chains. AM has long promised supply chain improvement by providing repeatable outcomes anywhere you have a machine, but it has failed to deliver machine-to-machine repeatability without qualifying parts across every printer at regular time intervals. However, the technology has matured, and that consistency and repeatability can now be achieved. I think the improvements in the technology (like larger machines, fewer supports, more alloys, better software, lower cost at high-volume production, and improved processes to name a few) are another major contributor. I do believe that the best growth is still ahead of us.

Yair Alcobi: With worldwide economics getting back to pre-pandemic levels and even higher, many companies will go back to investment in AM systems after putting things on hold for a while and focusing on evaluations and learning.

The disruption to supply chain coupled with the impact on the environment and the Dublin climate convention illustrates that AM is clearly a good way to go to reduce waste and dependency on shipments and stock, and to bring production closer to the consumption. The strategic supply chain shift of industry leaders is starting to gain momentum as companies are putting their money where their strategy is. These major players are building alternative, flexible, on-demand supply chains, based on AM capacity. Before the pandemic we were also seeing a lot of development in ceramics, we think 2023 could be the year of ceramic AM when the early majority start to pick up the technology. We are seeing emerging industries that do now have traditional supply chains are open to starting with AM first for both development and production: EV, drones, solar, space, automation, robotics.

Tech Briefs: Materials have been driving the AM industry forward. Which metal and polymer-based AM technologies are seeing significant growth? What innovations are expected in materials?

Brent Stucker: Currently, the highest growth area appears to be in the space/aerospace industry. Due to the high value and low volume of these applications, we are seeing a higher rate of growth in the adoption of lightweight metallics (e.g., Titanium and Aluminum) on high-value AM machines — many of which can exceed $1 million per system. While this is exciting for the industry, I anticipate we’ll see even more innovation in plastic materials over the next decade. We continue to see a reliance on petroleum-based polymers, which is in direct conflict with manufacturers’ desire to adopt sustainable practices. As a result, I think we will see a good deal of effort devoted to the development of more sustainable manufacturing methods — starting with materials.

Avi Reichental: We have seen significant growth in resin-based technologies, more specifically the next-gen stereolithography process that uses a “mask” and UV light to cure the resin into a solid object. Stereolithography or SLA has been around for many decades and in fact most 3D-printed components today have been printed using this method, but this method is painstakingly slow, which is a barrier to mass adoption for production applications requiring higher volumes. The Lubricant Sublayer Photo-curing (LSPc) process, which is Nexa3D’s patented variant of the mSLA process combines a UV light and a special membrane to ensure light uniformity and reduce peel forces, thereby printing at much higher speed and improved print quality. This we believe is what will open doors for higher volume, more economical mass adoption of polymer 3D printing.

Shai Terem: One area where we’re seeing a lot of innovation is around composites that can replace metal. For example, when printing with continuous carbon fiber, uniquely available from Markforged, it’s possible to create composite parts that are stronger than aluminum parts. Advanced composites have a major role to play in industries such as aerospace and automotive that need lighter, cheaper, and stronger parts. We even have a customer printing hundreds of satellites almost entirely out of our Onyx material with continuous carbon fiber.

Specifically for metals, we’re also seeing growth around stainless steel and copper, which are being adopted for manufacturing applications both on the assembly line but also for end-use parts in high-end automobiles. With the advent of highly precise binder jetting, such as our Digital Metal solution, AM is expanding into high throughput metal production. With that said, automotive and aerospace are driving significant growth of AM technologies and materials since they’re constantly looking for those lighter, cheaper, and stronger parts that can boost fuel/energy efficiency.

Benny Buller: I think the materials are driven by addressable use-cases. At Velo3D, our largest subset of customers is in aerospace. Because of that, we offer a large number of nickel-based alloys, like Inconels®, as well as other alloys designed for aerospace, like GRCop-42, a copper-based alloy designed by NASA for high strength at high temperatures and thermal conductivity.

However, we recently identified a new market opportunity for our technology in the automotive tooling industry. The automotive industry uses a lot of cast parts produced through high pressure die cast machines. These parts are created using specialized tooling designed to precisely cool molten metal at the right speed and temperature. Using 3D printing, part manufacturers can build better tooling inserts that cool more effectively and last longer. Because of this opportunity, we developed parameters that allow us to use M300 tool steel in our printers and we’ve seen extensive interest from major automotive companies who want to use our technology for tooling. As companies identify new industries where AM can enable use-cases, we’ll see more alloys be released to market.

Yair Alcobi: XJet opted to develop stainless steel as its first metal material because it’s already a popular production material. By offering existing production materials, it allows manufacturers to work with materials they know but using AM as a complimentary technology allows them to open up new geometries and create parts that weren’t possible before — this trend of AM reflecting traditional production materials we expect to continue. Outside of metals and polymers, XJet is obviously very interested in ceramic materials too. There is a vast wealth of opportunity in this sector as the industry opens up. Ceramic is still in the early stages but showing signs of gaining momentum across industries such as medical, telecoms, luxury consumer goods, automotive and more. As in metal, XJet opted to focus on the popular materials of zirconia and alumina, to cater to traditional manufacturers who want the freedom of design brought by AM but want to work with the properties of the materials they know well that are popular for good reason.

Tech Briefs: AM technologies are now available in various sizes. What’s gaining more ground — smaller and affordable machines or bigger 3D printers for larger build area?

Brent Stucker: We’re seeing innovation on a micro-scale as well as the development of some of the largest systems we’ve ever seen commercially available. While printing an Eiffel Tower that you can only see with a microscope or looking at a machine that is two stories tall with a large number of lasers are exciting, what is really needed are application-specific systems. Recently, there has been a commoditization in prototyping with standardized materials and systems. This includes low-cost systems for home and educational use and higher throughput systems for engineering operations. We are also seeing growth in the space industry where large metal parts are a requirement. Thus, larger, more productive systems are a key focus for several solution providers. What is gaining the most ground are solutions for new industries and new applications where the system design reflects the part size and part cost driven by the application business model. Whether it is jewelry, aerospace, automotive, or medical, they all have unique business propositions with their own unique system requirements and so a broader range of platform capabilities, material options, and software workflows are needed to support these independently unique applications.

Avi Reichental: It’s really industry-dependent. For instance, the oil and gas industry has been increasingly adopting large build volumes, both metal and polymer 3D printing technologies. Consumer products industry has been increasingly adopting professional desktop 3D printers, which are now much more affordable and more powerful in terms of performance, material availability, and overall economics. For example, Nexa3D’s new XiP desktop 3D printer is capable of producing engineering-grade components at your desktop faster and more economically than sourcing those same components either from your internal shop or 3D-printing service providers, thereby driving mass adoption within the product development and engineering community.

Shai Terem: We’re seeing a push for industrial grade 3D printers to support higher volume production. This push requires bigger print beds, not necessarily for the build or part size, but to be able to produce at scale. We created the Markforged FX20 to help meet this need for manufacturers who want to create end-use production parts quickly and reliably right at the point of need.

Benny Buller: There are two benefits to larger format printers. The first is obvious. Larger printers allow you to print larger parts. If you are trying to build a part that won’t fit on a smaller, more affordable machine, you’re stuck. However, larger printers can also lower costs for OEMs. For example, our Sapphire XC printer provides customers with a print volume that’s 500 percent larger than the original Sapphire. It also increases throughput by more than 400 percent using four times as many lasers and a faster non-contact recoater. However, the cost for the larger machine is only about double the cost of a Sapphire. This greatly lowers the cost of printed parts. We see smaller printers as an entry point that leads to large format printers for larger format printers. They require less capital to acquire and as you ramp up production, you can easily add a larger printer to the shop floor and expand production capabilities.

Yair Alcobi: We divide the market between prototyping and production. We see the production side as the high potential part of the market. This segment is looking for high-throughput systems and is less sensitive to system price. As such, we see the demand for larger AM systems growing.

Tech Briefs: The aerospace industry was an early adopter of additive technology, followed by the automotive and medical industry. Will these sectors continue to be the biggest users of AM?

Brent Stucker: Until we see significant shifts in applications, industries that have high value and low quantities will dominate the AM industry. It is hard to compete with traditional manufacturing techniques like injection molding at scale. That being said, there are many applications that could benefit from new materials and qualified AM processes. As we’ve seen in the past few years, many industries — especially the automotive industry — have been held captive by a fragile supply chain in the wake of COVID. AM has the capability to augment existing supply chains by allowing the greater value of a product (a $50,000 car for instance) to be delivered on time, even if it requires an individual component cost to increase by 100X ($0.04 to. $4.00).

Avi Reichental: Yes, they will, but they will be joined by other more mainstream industries like consumer products due to proliferation of professional desktop 3D printers.

Shai Terem: I think yes, we are continuing to see aerospace, automotive, and medical as some of the biggest users of AM. But another emerging sector is in general manufacturing and specifically companies that build complex machinery for packaging, food processing, and industrial automation. This category of a manufacturer has a need for low volume but highly custom, complex parts which is a perfect fit for AM. We are even seeing demand on the post-sales side where MRO use cases can be solved via digital inventory and on-demand production with a solution like our Digital Forge.

Benny Buller: In the short-term, I believe so. However, we’re also seeing a lot of traction in the energy industry where companies are using AM to produce smaller and more efficient turbines and other equipment. The other industry where we see a lot of traction is oil and gas. Much of the oil and gas infrastructure the world relies on is quite old and in recent years, many suppliers have stopped offering certain parts all together. Lead times are sometimes measured in years as well, which means companies must maintain a large inventory of parts for maintenance, repair, and operations. AM is a powerful solution to these challenges. I also think that as new industries see how AM is streamlining supply chains, enabling the production of existing designs without having to reengineer the part using design for AM (DfAM), and lowering costs compared to conventional manufacturing, they will adopt the technology as well.

Yair Alcobi: Yes, we see aerospace as a large and leading segment, however the general industrial/machinery vertical is potentially larger and with lower entry barriers than aerospace. The material certification process in the aerospace industry is often strict and requires many phases of development, particularly for flight-ready parts in regard to central characteristics such as fire-safety, etc. Such parts are being more readily produced using AM and we would expect this to grow as more and more aerospace adopters see the benefits of existing use-cases.

Tech Briefs: Which AM technologies have the most future potential and why?

Brent Stucker: I believe powder-bed, photopolymer, and bioprinting have the brightest future. While extrusion printers likely make up the greatest volume of printers in the market, there is an inherent limit to the speed of the process and the materials that can be used. Powder-bed technologies for both polymers and metals have dominated production applications and likely will continue to do so. Photopolymer material research is ongoing and we see very good quality parts being produced at high volumes. But I think the area that has the most future potential is in the use of biocompatible materials and hydrogels for use in drug discovery and regenerative medicine. There is tremendous progress being made in these fields; however, it’s still early days, and significant opportunities to impact patient care remain untapped.

Avi Reichental: High-speed polymer and metal 3D printing technologies will further push the production limits and throughput economics of AM. Additionally, post-processing optimization and workflow automation will aid in further adoption of additive technologies across multiple industries.

Shai Terem: An exciting area with a ton of potential is binder jetting and technologies for advanced composite materials, both of which are being used to create mission critical parts in aerospace and automotive. However, while binder jetting is a hardware innovation that is helping customers print faster and at higher volumes, it is really the power of software which will unlock the future of AM. Advanced software often powered by machine learning and mixed with the right hardware is making 3D printing easier to use as well as more reliable and flexible. I believe that advances in software is what will really supercharge 3D printing adoption.

Benny Buller: We are singularly focused on laser powder bed fusion, so I would selfishly have to say that technology. However, all of the different technologies serve different purposes that don’t necessarily compete with one another. They all have extensive potential, just in different ways.

Yair Alcobi: Within metal and ceramic, we see binder jetting as a growing technology due to its simplicity and low entry cost. However, technologies that will achieve final part quality equal to traditional standards will take over the high-end part segments. For example, XJet’s Nano Particle Jetting, which uses high-definition direct-material deposition. This technology enables the manufacture of metal parts that are highly complex, with superfine details, smooth surfaces and pinpoint accuracy — finally making AM’s promise of zero-cost complexity a reality.


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