3D printing has grown tremendously over the past decade in just about every way possible. Product sales, revenues from manufacturing, adoption and integration levels, just to name a few, have all skyrocketed as of late. This growth of additive manufacturing has led to the surpassing of traditional manufacturing’s growth across the globe. Although 3D printing only makes up a small portion of the $14 trillion worldwide manufacturing market while methods such as injection molding and CNC machining dominate the market, this growth is foreshadowing a change that is coming, and coming quickly.

3D printing has two main categories of material capabilities – polymer-based and metal. Polymer-based additive manufacturing rivals traditional production techniques like injection molding, while metal 3D printing is easily comparable to CNC machining. Although the estimated $7.4 billion 3D printing industry may seem quite inferior to that of traditional manufacturing methods, it important to analyze the growth of 3D printing in recent years in order to understand just how fast these additive technologies are developing and spreading across the globe.

A look at the growth of 3D printing system sales across all classes. (Image courtesy of Wohlers Report 2018.)

The growth of 3D printing systems sales across all classes. (Image courtesy of Wohlers Report 2018.)

Polymer 3D Printing vsInjection Molding

Polymer 3D Printers are undeniably the most often used 3D printers today, taking up almost 80% of the 3D printing market. Since 2010, the polymer 3D printing market has skyrocketed, going from 100,000 units sold in 2014 to nearly 500,000 in 2017. This growth comes from the increasing relevance in production, user understanding and 3D printer capabilities. According to Lane Long’s engineering.com article, 3D Printing Is Poised to Continue Outpacing Growth of Traditional Manufacturing:

“In monetary terms, the growth has been even more significant. The total value of the polymer-based additive manufacturing sector grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29 percent over the same period to reach $6 billion in 2017.”

Compare this to the less than 2% of growth experts are predicting injection molding to have through 2022, and this coming change can truly be seen. Although it serves as the cheaper option for volume production today, analysts anticipate that injection molding sales will become stagnant in the coming years, as 3D printing continues to grow and open new production possibilities for companies across the globe. Many companies are beginning to take notice of this trend and are already adopting 3D printing to stay ahead of the competition. This can be seen in the medical industry, where 98% of all hearing aids are 3D printed today.

BigRep’s Industrial-sized 3D printers are revolutionizing 3D printing as we know it with their large print capabilities.

Metal 3D Printing vs. CNC Machining

Metal 3D printing almost accounts for all the non-polymer 3D printing systems in the 3D printing market. Although not used nearly as much as polymer 3D printing, metal 3D printing is developing quickly and could soon transform manufacturing entirely. Powerhouse corporations, such as GE, BMW and NASA, are investing tens of millions of dollars into the development of this technology as they look to bring forth new innovations and capabilities.

Because of these research and development efforts, metal 3D printing has already become an indispensable tool for some as it is used to produce a variety of products – from jet engine fuel nozzles to car components. These R&D campaigns have also driven awareness and popularity as sales of metal 3D printing systems have increased by over 80% in just the last year. Wohlers Report 2018 revealed that more and more companies are beginning to produce metal additive manufacturing systems, with the number doubling in 2016 and jumping another 30% last year.

Metal-based additive manufacturing is ascending rapidly, as evidenced by the spike in unit sales in recent years.(Image courtesy of Wohlers Report 2018.)

Very similar to injection-molding’s market hold, CNC machining rules the majority of the manufacturing marketplace. As metal 3D printing is continually developed, however, this market dominance will certainly see decline. Metal 3D printing is faster, cheaper and more accurate than CNC machining. The only thing lacking with metal 3D printing is the material capabilities, something that is already beginning to expand.

According to Lane Long’s article, “The takeaway from this comparison, rather, is that metal-based 3D printing is set to expand at a faster rate than the established technology over the short-to medium-term time frame. Indeed, it may be set to expand more quickly than any other manufacturing sub-sector going forward.”

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