The lack of improvement in throughput places even more pressure on manufacturers to reduce the cost of materials, which are highly specific to each machine. "Materials are being sold at very high margins right now," said Vicari, "so there's a market for independent material suppliers."
Many different types of materials are involved in each printer's materials set; for instance, various additives for polymers to control melting temperature and flexibility. For metals, this is less true, but they still require custom development.
Even so, printer companies are only offering a few materials with their machines, compared to what's potentially available. By 2025, there will probably be a more open market with third-party materials suppliers selling many more materials choices. Meanwhile, some 3D printer companies, especially smaller and newer ones, are partnering with materials companies.
Users of printers often don't have access to controls, like modifying the chamber temperature for a given material. But once these machines move into production, not prototyping, where every large company has their own process engineers, these customers will want to have more control over the process and the materials, said Vicari.
Business relationships and business models will also change. For example, last November, Morris Technologies, a service bureau that worked primarily with aerospace engine components, was acquired by GE Aviation, which makes aircraft, military, and marine engines.
This makes me wonder whether more aerospace companies might adopt 3D printing and other AM techniques by outright acquisition, instead of investment or monetary support of various kinds, such as Lockheed's partnership with Sciaky. I also wonder whether machines and materials sets will become more customized for first, specific markets, and second, for individual, very large OEMs.