With more varied choices and falling prices across the board, metal additive manufacturing (AM) systems are showing significant growth in the overall 3D printing industry over the past year.
In an excerpt from the latest Wohler Report 2018, it was reported that there was a significant increase of nearly 80% metal AM printers sold in 2017 (1,768) compared to the previous year (983).
Sales of metal materials also grew significantly in 2017. While overall sales of AM polymers saw an increase of 22.5% last year, the demand for metal materials surged a staggering 44.6% in the same period and demonstrated the huge interest in metal AM systems.
One of the factors that contributed to this growth spurt can be attributed to the sales of the Studio System, a desktop-friendly metal AM system released by Desktop Metal. Sales of the Studio System were reflected for the first time in the report, and they contributed 20.2% of the total.
First announced in 2015 to much fanfare, the Studio System was commercially released in 2017 and received much interest as a low-priced metal 3D printing system that can cover the full product cycle from design to production. Desktop Metal is meanwhile slated to release their Production System in 2019, which is built for mass production of metal 3D parts.
With more and more metal 3D printing systems proving their applicability, companies are moving towards acquiring more machines to meet their objectives like design certification and qualify processes.
Advances in design software including analysis applications for support structures optimization, and the generative design tool “Live Parts” that simplifies the generative designing of the 3D printed part for users, are also helping to pique genuine interest among companies.
These tools not only enable the production of high-quality parts without warping but also results in less trial and error for companies looking for a fast turnaround time.
Still, there are challenges that metal AM is facing in terms of changing the traditional design mindset, as well as training engineers in using the emerging technology.
A conventional part might, for example, cost just $25 to manufacture it by traditional manufacturing, but metal AM would cost 10 times more instead. But if engineers were to redesign the components specifically for metal AM processes, numerous parts could be combined into one, and become the game-changer in terms of ROI.
In summary, the light bulb has come on for metal AM systems as companies start to grow aware of their capabilities and embrace adoption.