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.
78RPM, thanks for your comments and the info on ExOne--we did write about them and what they're doing with metals and other materials: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=252293 But we like to hear about new players in this widening industry.
Having been involved with rapid prototyping since the mid-late 90's and in the plastics industry for longer, I understand what you are saying. Will AM replace high volume production? I can't say that is will. I do believe that with the improvements in the available materials, accuracy of the machines, and their increased capabilities, I can see AM having a significant impact on low volume or quick turn parts. If I can get 10-20 or even 100 parts that will perform as needed in the same time it would take to build a mold, it becomes the obvious choice. Companies like Invisa-Line creating custom orthodontics, or Rausch making custom 1-off racing parts is where this technology is already transforming manufacturing. I see this growing and becoming more wide spread as time goes on. As more become aware of the capabilities, as well as understanding the limits, parts can be designed accordingly. Think of the metal to plastics conversion. The designs had to change to account for different properties, and as people became more educated accordingly, other features not possible in metal were added. Assemblies can be simplified by designing the molded parts differently. If the same approach it taken with AM, I think the sky is the limit.
Ann, the biggest hurdle to 3D printing ever catching and surpassing conventional molding is the high-volume throughput capability of injection molding. Typical molded parts (components of super high volume products like iPhones) are injection-molded in about 20 seconds -- usually with multiple cavities – so routine production yields 3 parts/minute per cavity.
So, accepting that AM methods will never be able (did I say never-?) to reach this "run-rate", then the logical application of the 3D methods is to print the tooling; not the parts.
Even after great strides have been made in slashing tooling lead-times over the past 15 years, tool-makers lead-times are still measured in "weeks" (4-6 is average) for conventional mold tools. Imagine if toolmakers simply printed the mold base using an advanced SLS method for metals; a mold base typically taking 2 weeks to complete could be measured in hours.
Accordingly, my vision of the3DP & AM industry points at tooling -- I just cannot imagine the part processing ever matching market demand.
As you probably know and may have written about already, a company called ExOne recently had its IPO. Their printers can print in brass, stainless steel and sand. They can print pretty large objects. Their website says the Navy uses the printers to print out-of-production parts for old ships. The process is far cheaper than going out to bid for someone to make them.
Thanks for your comments, Elizabeth. I've been writing about this space for awhile, but was surprised at what a small proportion of the market comprises consumer applications right now. Those are what's getting all the media attention from the non-technical press, since they've got the sci-fi magic-like appeal of "instantly" creating something.
Interesting report, Ann. I am not surprised that the consumer space will only be a small portion of the market growth, and that prototyping and small-volume manufacturing will contribute to most of it. But I think a lot of people who don't follow the industry might not realize this because, as you said, consumer products get a lot of play (and of course, are sexier to the general public than manufacturer's use of 3D printing). But all in all, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
A make-your-own Star Wars Sith Lightsaber hilt is heftier and better-looking than most others out there, according to its maker, Sean Charlesworth. You can 3D print it from free source files, and there's even a hardware kit available -- not free -- so you can build one just in time for Halloween.
Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.
Cars and other vehicles, as well as electronics and medical devices, continue to lead the use cases for the new plastics products we've been seeing, as engineers design products for tougher environments.
LeMond Composites, founded by three-time Tour de France cycling champion Greg LeMond, is the first to license a new carbon fiber production method invented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) that's faster, cheaper, and greener.
This month will mark the launch of the SpeedFoiler, a super-fast, ultra-lightweight foiling catamaran that can fly short distances over water faster than other foiling designs, in part because of its carbon composite materials.
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