Additive Manufacturing Goes Industrial  

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Additive Manufacturing Goes Industrial  

A decade ago, additive manufacturing (or AM) began to appear in labs, workshops, and design studios, where flexibility, low turn-around times, and one-off production are crucial advantages.  But, with rare exceptions, additive manufacturing has not made a dent in mainstream manufacturing.   However, AM is on the verge of being widely adopted in industrial manufacturing dramatically increasing flexibility, lowering costs, and enabling “previously un-manufacturable designs.”

The world’s top companies have taken notice and are making ambitious moves to capture their share of AM potentially huge value creation.

  • General Electric, for example, has acquired two of the leading companies that specialize in metal-based AM technology. 
  • BMW, GE, Google, and Nikon are among the investors funding a Silicon Valley startup’s efforts to develop a new polymer-based AM technology.  And,
  • Hewlett-Packard has developed its own polymer-based AM process.

According to recent research from the Boston Consulting Group, the AM market is already booming.  It was at approximately $5 billion worldwide in 2015 and is forecast to grow at a compound annual rate of almost 30% through 2020, to at least $15 billion.   Even more importantly, BCG’s research indicates that by 2035, if AM processes were adopted for just 1.5% of the total addressable manufacturing market, the AM segment would exceed $350 billion

Therefore, the Trends editors believe the time is finally ripe for materials suppliers, equipment providers, and end-user manufacturers to jointly work to make industrialized AM a reality.  Those who wait too long risk yielding leadership to the pioneers.

Which industries are ready to make the leap to industrial-scale AM?  To answer this question, BCG categorized industries into three maturity stages  based on their existing use of AM:

  • Stage#1: R&D and Experimental Production. In the earliest stageof AM adoption, manufacturers conduct tests that let them become familiar with AM technologies and explore the limitations (such as material strength) of using each of several methods...

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