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Additive manufacturing is a powerful technology, but is likely to play a niche role

JAN 21, 2021 | Jim Morrish
region: ALL sector: ALL 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing is mostly used to support product design

Today Transforma Insights published an updated version of its Additive Manufacturing (AM) Technology Insight Report, including forecasts and a new focus on enabling software.

Most usage of AM in an enterprise context is currently, and will remain, to support the product design process. Product design is ideally suited to AM given the requirement for production of low-volume, often one-off customised objects. We forecast that around 75% of AM devices used in industry (including in Educational settings) today are used primarily for design purposes, and associated experimentation, and that this proportion will remain broadly stable until 2030 and beyond.

Usage of AM for actual manufacturing is currently constrained to mostly aesthetic parts, such as customised vehicle keys or customised inserts for cars. BMW’s ‘Mini Yours Customized’ programme is a good example, with options for customised keys, owner names integrated into wing mirror courtesy lights (so that you can see your name, or some other message, projected on the ground when the courtesy light is on), and door sill and side scuttle inserts emblazoned with the owner’s name. Let’s face it, it’s not going to change the world is it? BMW has now closed the programme.

Additive Manufacturing is increasingly used to support mass market manufacturing

However, the technology is beginning to be used for mass market propositions in two main contexts. Firstly, low-volume mass markets, such as low volume car manufacturing or jewellery production. BMW again provides a good example here, and the company claims that its’ Rolls Royce Phantom includes 10,000 additively manufactured components. Other smaller volume vehicles also benefit from AM parts, including models from Aston Martin, McLaren, and Bugatti. Porsche is also experimenting with AM for car seats.

Secondly, AM techniques are starting to be adopted to produce specific high performance parts in support of a wider, more traditional, manufacturing process. BMW, for instance, has used AM to manufacture a fixture for the i8 soft top that is 10x stiffer and 44% lighter than its’ injection moulded counterpart. GM has achieved similar results with an AM-produced seat bracket that integrates seatbelt anchor points and replaces eight components with a single part (although the part in question is not yet in production).

But Additive Manufacturing will likely remain a niche technology

Longer term, AM will likely remain a niche (albeit powerful) enabling technology for more traditional manufacturing. Key areas of the market to watch are emerging software environments (including generative design, build simulation, and design validation), the opening up of supply chains so that users of AM machines have a wider choice of suppliers, particularly of print materials, and techniques to support IP protection, distribution, and production management for design owners.

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