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Industry Insights| Metal 3D Printing: The Current and Future

Metal 3D printing is becoming an increasingly hot topic. It is reported that metal 3D printing market was having a global value of approximately $ 450 million in 2017, and is expected to generate revenue of approximately $ 2.321 billion by the end of 2024, with a total growth rate of approximately 26.4%.
What is Metal 3D Printing?

Metal 3D printing is considered the apex of 3D printing. There are actually two common types of technologies utilized in metal 3D printing, the SLM (Selective Laser Melting) and DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). The two technologies both use a laser to scan and melt the metal powder in a granular form, and then take shape layer by layer. The only essential difference between the two lies in the particle bonding process, the former using metal powders with a single melting temperature, and the latter using materials with variable melting points that fuse on a molecular level at elevated temperatures.
The two technologies are both expected to create end-use objects in industrial fields.

The Advantages of Metal 3D Printing
Despite all the achievements accomplished by FDM 3D printing, it also has limitations. Due to the limited range of FDM 3D printing materials, the main obstacle is that the final objects produced by FDM cannot directly meet industrial and commercial demands. When attending the China High-Tech Fair Creality 3D found that many people were showing keen interest in metal 3D printing, especially for those are doing in consumer electronics fields. Therefore, what are exactly the advantages of metal 3D printing over FDM 3D printing?

1. More supportable materials. Metal 3D printing further expands the boundaries of supporting materials to aluminum alloys, stainless steel and tool steel, titanium alloys, Cobalt-Chrome superalloys, and even Nickel superalloys, which means metal 3D printing will build a bridge between metal prototyping and direct industrial applications.

2. High material utilization. Compared with traditional precision machining technology, metal 3D printing technology can save a lot of materials, especially for more expensive metal materials, greatly reduce costs.

3. Shorten the time circle of new product development. 3D printing can model the final components or final products, without the need for auxiliary tools such as molds and fixtures, which can greatly reduce the product development cycle, save mold production costs, and increase the iterative speed of product development.

4. Higher success ratio of final products. Metal 3D printing can realize the formation of complex components that are difficult to achieve by traditional precision machining, improve the yield of parts, and improve product quality.

The Current of Metal 3D Printing
Metal 3D printing has been applied in various industries, including the most common in medical and dental care, and then followed by jewelry, aerospace, and automotive sector. At present, there are more than 100 companies providing metal 3D printing service. The recent news as shown below is the best proven evidence.

Los Angeles-based Relativity Space believes that 3D printed rockets are faster to manufacture and have fewer parts than traditional rockets. The company is using large welding robotic arms with printing nozzle to make component parts for space rockets. When it comes to 3D printing, aerospace is even not the limit.

During the Formnext 2019, GE Additive, GE's additive manufacturing business unit, launched two metal 3D printers at Formnext 2019, namely Arcam EBM Spectra L and ConceptLaser M2-5, and a new automatic powder recycling module. In addition, the company also introduced for the first time D-material, a support material for printing pure copper and high-alloy tool steels, as well as an EBM 3D printing performance analysis kit (AEBMBPA), aiming to promote the mass production of high-quality parts, especially final parts for the medical and aerospace sectors.

The Future of Metal 3D Printing

1. Metal 3D printing has become the fastest growing sector in 3D printing industry. It is reported that companies that have already been involved in metal 3D printing will continue to increase investment, and companies that have not been involved in or slightly involved in metal 3D printing will introduce metal 3D printing and formulate long-term market strategies.

2. The demand for metal powder raw materials will greatly increase as the metal 3D printing market is continually expanding. The increasing production of metal prints will continue to put pressure on the metal powder supply chain. However, it is also reported that high-quality metal powder will still be in short supply especially for the medical sector and aerospace sector.

3. Small metal 3D printers will gain some increase while large metal 3D printers are dominating. This small metal 3D printer can not only be applied to scientific research, but also become a transition zone between industrial-grade metal 3D printing and DIY-type 3D printing.

Based on the superiorities of metal 3D printing technology itself, it will exert a great difference in various industries, especially in automation manufacturing sectors. In the future, metal 3D printing is going to break more limits. The Asia-Pacific region will be the fastest-growing region in the global, which results from rapid technological progress and rapidly growing manufacturing. Besides, economic development in emerging countries such as India and China will also drive market growth.