The metal 3D printing market is booming–as evidenced by GE’s purchase of printer manufacturers Arcam and Concept Laser GmbH. Also market research firm IDTechEx has reported metal 3D printer sales grew by 48 percent in 2015 and material sales grew at 32 percent.
Those types of sales numbers should expand at similar rates of growth over the next four years, according to August 2016 IDTechEx report, “3D Printing of Metal Parts 2015 to 2025.”
But because of the technology’s expense, speed, and part size limitations it’s mainly been used in low-volume industries like aerospace and biomedical. That’s changing quickly, according to the report. Thanks to rapidly improving technology and a growing understanding of the process, industrial applications for metal 3D printing have started to rapidly expand.
While fused deposition modeling technology is still the largest segment of the 3D printing market, and sales continue to rise, sales aren’t rising nearly as quickly as for metal 3D printers and materials. Metal printing should continue to be the fastest growing segment of the industry through at least 2020, according to the report.
Part of that growth is due to the focus of the 3D printing industry, which has been trending away from the hobbyist and maker market and onto the industrial and business market for almost two years now, with metal printing coming to the fore in those markets, the report states.
The growing demand for metal applications is being driven by the increased use of the technology to manufacture low-volume or individually customized metal parts for advanced engine components and medical implants, according tot he report.
As the size of the metal 3D printing market is growing so too are the number of different printing technologies available, said Cullen Hilkene, chief executive officer at 3Diligent, a San Diego company that connects requests for quotes with the right vendors for the work, facilitates the transaction, and guarantees parts arrive on time and to spec.
Earlier this month, Hilkene announced the company has expanded its metal rapid manufacturing technologies in light of the growth in metal 3D printing. The capabilities will allow for the metal plating of resin and plastic parts in addition to metal casting of wax-printed parts. These offerings complement the company’s other metal printing and machining options, Hilkene said.
Metal plating of 3D-printed parts allows designers to achieve many of the benefits of metal printing, without the price tag. Through metal plating, parts are given a metallic appearance and additional durability.
Wax print to cast metal technology provides customers a means to access metals that aren’t readily printed any other way. This process can be used to cast precious metals or industrial alloys that aren’t readily offered in the powder form required for other types of metal 3D printing.