Wohlers Associates notes the dramatic rise in the metal additive manufacturing industry in its recently released Wohlers Report 2018. The consultancy in Fort Collins, Colo., tracks the additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing) industry.
The overall additive industry continues to grow at a rapid pace, with easily metal keeping up. In 2016, an estimated 983 metal additive manufacturing systems were sold. In 2017, that number increased by 80 percent, to 1,768. That’s by far the greatest single-year increase since 2000, says Terry Wohler, president of Wohlers Associates.
Process monitoring and quality assurance measures continue to improve as well, the report found.
Demand for additive continues. Last year, 135 companies worldwide produced and sold industrial additive manufacturing systems, defined as machines that sell for more than $5,000, up from 97 companies in 2016.
New 3D printer manufacturers are entering the market at a rapid rate, releasing machines with open material platforms, faster print speeds, and lower pricing, allowing metal additive manufacturing to become more and more accessible, Wohlers said.
Wohlers Associates has published its annual reports on the additive industry for 23 consecutive years. This year, the report includes new and expanded sections on design for additive manufacturing, post-processing, and a variety of startups and research initiatives.
As the industry expands, more industries are relying for additive manufacturing for production, rather than strictly as prototypes.
The aircraft industry has been one of the first to move beyond using 3D-printed parts strictly for prototyping designs. Now, more and more aerospace companies are incorporating 3D printed parts into the actual aircraft they fly.
The parts can be made much lighter without sacrificing strength. In the aviation industry, every bit of weight reduction translates into cost savings, Wohlers said. Eliminating just one pound from an aircraft brings a fuel savings of 14,000 gallons per year for a typical commercial airliner, he added.
Printed parts weight 30 to 55 percent less than traditionally manufactured parts, reduce raw material used by 90 percent and cut total energy used in production by up to 90 percent compared to traditional methods, said Peter Sander of Airbus’s Innovation Cell. Sanders’ group investigates and promotes emerging technologies.
The production method could reduce the total weight on each aircraft by more than one ton.
This year Airbus expects to print about 30 tons metal parts every month. The aerospace company will use modeling software to digitally simulate the tooling and prototyping of parts for test flights and production use on commercial aircraft.
Also this year, GE Aviation will include 3D printed parts within the CFM Leap aircraft engines, produced jointly by GE and time partner Snecma, of France. The engines will include 19 3D printed fuel nozzles in the combustion system. The nozzles couldn’t be manufactured using traditional methods.