In 2018, users of additive manufacturing technology saw a number of new ways to build parts layer-by-layer as vendors continued to explore how fast the technology could go. Expect such explorations to continue in 2019. In addition, large manufacturers in aerospace and automotive continue to include additive technology in their product development and production efforts. So, what might be in store for additive in 2019? Recently Materialise released its take on trends for 3D printing for this year. Here’s what the experts at the company had to say.
- Applications, not technology, will drive the 3D printing industry forward
The AM industry has been shifting its focus to identify the right applications for 3D printing for some time now. In 2019 that shift will intensify, as the application-driven approach to 3D printing is likely to gain attention from the financial world.
Fried Vancraen, Materialise CEO, explains that the wheels are already in motion: “Investments are not going to machine manufacturers anymore but to companies and start-ups that apply 3D printing to create real added value in specific domains.”
The objective is to widen the pool of industries using 3D printing, which creates a demand for products rather than supply for a non-existing market.
But there are challenges. When a company adds additive manufacturing to its mix, design engineers need to adopt a new set of rules: it’s a move from ‘design for manufacturing’ to ‘design for additive manufacturing.’ Knowing what works for a design intended for metal casting isn’t enough when you’re making the switch to metal 3D printing.
This is the main reason why many 3D printing players offer consultancy in design to additive manufacturing, to support new adopters of 3D printing with making the most of the technology for their applications.
- A rise in polymer materials for 3D printing
Last year was the year of metal 3D printing. This time, it’s plastic materials preparing for substantial growth in 2019, with material manufacturers playing a big role.
Giovanni Vleminckx, a materials expert in Materialise’s research and development team, observed that material manufacturers like BASF are producing materials specifically for 3D printing.
“New materials for 3D printing were not being produced because they were not processable on commercially available machines. Now, large material suppliers are signaling their willingness and drive to push forward with 3D printing technology. That’s leading to a steady fast growth for 3D printing plastics.”
The rise of manufacturing applications, as opposed to prototyping ones, is fueling a growth in materials development. As industries identify ideal applications for 3D printing, material manufacturers will be driven to develop and certify new materials to suit those applications.
This growth is especially important for industries like aerospace and automotive that need materials with specific properties and quality requirements. Industries will be able to choose the materials that best serve their applications, whether it’s for functional prototypes or series manufacturing.
- What will also be needed is material standardization and better machine control.
In the meantime, businesses continue to use tried and tested materials for newly identified applications. The emergence of 3D-printed eyewear as a vertical, for example, was founded on an existing material, PA 12; but the real boost will come with the introduction of new materials that fit the industry’s needs.
- Software will be key to boosting productivity in 3D printing
There is a consensus among Materialise experts that 3D printing is reaching a new level of maturity.
“We need to get productivity and profitability up, and costs down. Software plays a key role in that,” says Stefaan Motte, Software Vice President at Materialise.
Software makes it possible to automate tasks throughout the 3D printing process. “Automating manual labor during the preparation phase, also during and after production, is already a big help in making 3D printing scalable and cutting the costs down,” continues Motte.
Another way to improve productivity is through simulating the 3D printing process. Simulation makes it possible for production operators to spot potential build errors before the build starts. Preventing failed builds can help reduce production costs drastically, bring down scrap rates, and increase overall profitability.
- Technology-neutral interconnectivity, not proprietary solutions
For 3D printing to claim a bigger share of the $12 trillion manufacturing market, the 3D printing industry needs to offer interoperability and technology-neutral solutions. If industrial manufacturers want to be serious about adopting 3D printing as a complementary manufacturing technology for final products, they simply cannot afford to be locked into proprietary solutions that limit their flexibility and choice.
- Governments will get more involved
We have seen 3D printing emerge as a discussion point in governmental environments, says Bram Smits, Public Policy Officer at Materialise, and this can be expected to increase in 2019. This rise is a signal that 3D printing is gaining importance in society and is freeing itself from the label of a prototyping technology.
The main concerns for policy are the regulation of intellectual property and product liability. Underneath this is the concern that 3D printing could do to the physical object what the internet has done for music and movies: change business models and shift all the value to the digital file.
“3D printing will disrupt supply chains but governments overestimate how much of the value is on the digital file. A part of the value will shift from the object to the CAD file and we need to think how we regulate these files,” says Smits.
“The industry should get involved and talk to governments and explain what the technology can do, and what it can’t do and will never be able to do. With this we can create a safe and good regulatory framework that protects their citizens, designers and patients,” concludes Smits.
“For 2019, we expect new users will continue to find their way towards additive manufacturing, and we’ll see an increasing number of companies shifting their production to AM or adding AM into the mix. … We don’t expect 2019 to become an inflection point in the history of AM, but the stage is set for another year of incremental steps towards an additive future.” – Fried Vancraen, Materialise CEO.