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3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing is likely to remain a niche pursuit

JUN 07, 2022 | Jim Morrish
region: ALL sector: ALL 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

Defining Additive Manufacturing

As defined by Transforma Insights, 3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing (collectively AM) can be characterised as hardware devices the purpose of which is to instantiate physical objects through the gradual accretion of matter. The matter that is accreted ranges from plastic or polymer in low-end devices, through to metals and ceramics in high performance devices.

Contexts for Additive Manufacturing

Three key dynamics underpin the adoption of AM: object flexibility (the potential to ‘print’ objects that could not be manufactured using non-AM techniques); scale flexibility (in that the scale curve for AM is essentially flat across volumes), and; supply chain simplification (since parts can be printed when, and where, they are needed).

Accordingly, markets for AM will be driven by the flexibility of the technology to support the creation of sophisticated and complex objects, relatively efficiently in low volumes. This gives rise to three distinct contexts for AM:

Design. Including the use of AM techniques to support the relatively low-cost and rapid creation of objects representing a design concept.

Manufacturing. Including the use of AM to manufacture parts that are included in final products, or in some cases the final products themselves.

Field. In a field context, AM can be used to instantiate spare parts on-demand in the location that they are needed, resulting in a significant reduction in supply chain costs and also lead times.

Forecasts for Additive Manufacturing

Transforma Insights forecasts suggest that around 75% of AM devices used in an enterprise context in 2030 will be deployed to support the design of objects (including components, products and other physical assets), with many of these in fact appearing in an educational context. The use of AM to support actual manufacturing will be relatively limited (around 23% of devices in 2030) but it can be very high impact in the context of specific manufacturing verticals (e.g. automotive and aerospace) and also in a human healthcare context. Further downstream, in field contexts, AM can be deployed to radically simplify supply chains for field
support but, again, volumes are low (around 2% of devices in 2030).

The use of AM techniques for actual manufacturing does, however, extend beyond just the manufacturing sector, with the customised manufacture of dental implants a significant niche market. On a scale that is several orders of magnitude larger, AM can also be used in the construction of buildings with layers of cement deposited to gradually build walls. Construction can be a natural fit for AM techniques, since much of the design information
needed to construct a building will already exist in digital form.

The adoption of AM also varies significantly across geographies, with more of a focus on actual ‘manufacturing’ in North America and Japan, field support in South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, and design in Europe and Latin America.

For more discussion of AM, please check this blog and this blog.

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