The end of the year and the end of a decade marks a good time for reflection and great time to ponder the upcoming year ahead. The authors have teamed up to bring their practical work experience in both conventional and advanced manufacturing to reflect on the last decade and look ahead to the next one specific to global trends in Additive Manufacturing (AM).
In the previous decade, we watched as Metal Additive Manufacturing maturated and began to be a viable manufacturing process. In the early part of the decade many firsts were achieved largely through the powder bed fusion (PBF) processes. From gas turbine engine parts to bits that replaced human bone, we saw metal AM make an appearance just about everywhere clever engineers could make a case. By 2017, it had gained legitimacy as a real manufacturing technology. In 2018, we continued to see strong, but likely over-stated valuation and investment. 2019 will be remembered as the year businesses decided to treat it as a business.
The next decade will be where AM is less special and seen to be another tool in the manufacturing tool box. We’re seeing 2020 as a sharp turn to get profitable using AM. Consolidation likely as we’ve seen the proliferation of metal AM manufactures rise from single digits in the early 2000’s to over 30 today. However, as the vast investment in AM has outpaced demand we see the signs of a correction which will spur further growth. Finally, we will see a marked change in business needs from events and speakers who speak AM to events that help shape manufacturing.
To get a comprehensive glimpse of the trends in AM, we’ll use five lenses: Machines, Materials, Digital, People, and Geography.
- People will get to know the other 6 forms of AM better.Mostly today, people know powder bed fusion (PBF) or possibly Directed Energy Deposition (DED) but most of the manufacturing world knows very little. Machinecompetition increases and the machine users will demand more. AM will learn a lot about manufacturing in the next decade, and benefit from conventional machine maker partnerships for industrialization and cost competitiveness
- Productivitywill improve.Faster speeds, lower costs, more automation and more build analytics will all greatly improve the manufacturer’s life. Over time engineers will learn more how to design for AM which also help improve the utility of the machines as well as taking a whole of process perspective. Machines will also get more skills and more capability as more of the digital world converges into the machines.
- As the processes get better understood, our ability to use more materials will increase as well.Although linked to awareness and education, a better understanding of the product requirements and therefor the materials performance required will help us better use materials in AM. As AM learns more about manufacturing, lesson learned from welding for example will be integrated. We will certainly see more materials choice. As with the process, a whole of life perspective will find better understanding of material behavior, including optimization of thermal treatments. This combination will emerge as a way to get more consistency.
- The AM community will seek better understanding of the powder requirements for the process. This view will be less about controlling costs but about getting the process better under control. The “religion of the round” will be challenged!
- Currently, the global AM market suffers from lack of locally produced approved materials. As AM processes are further understood and powder requirements are refined, more local sources will become available, driving down material & import costs.
- Innovations in image processing, software, and CAD to CAM are top priority to propel the convergence of the design and simulation tools into machines and how they operate. The design iteration process to and from CAD should get easier, with less disparate file types and tools.
- Machine analytics to predict build success and material performance will increase.In-situ corrections will become possible, bringing a higher first pass yield and rate of repeatability.
- Our line of sight to material performance data will increase as industry figures out how to pool data and resources.
- The media attention will wane as the “firsts” begin to be commonplace. It will be interesting to see the impact on the meetings, conferences and workshops.
- The need for AM education and awareness across all business functions will increase. Businesses seeking to make money from AM will get very focused, very quickly and as the proverb goes, “fortune favors the prepared”.
- Diversity will take a back burner.It will be a challenge to keep those young people involved in AM who were drawn to it initially once it becomes more mainstream. Hopefully, we will have learned a lesson on how to attract a younger and more gender diverse workforce but history tends to lean the other way.
- With initial market dominance occurring primarily in North America, Europe and China, other regions are poised to see growth, and will be further spurred on by investment initiatives such as “Make in India” and NAMIC Singapore.
- With enhancements in automation and machine usability, coupled with pro-domestic manufacturing government policies, AM will enable certain regions to re-shore manufacturing. Re-shoring will reduce transportation costs, lead time, and increase the ability to adjust to changing market demands.
AM will be less special and more specialized. AM will start to be another tool in the manufacturing toolbox with less anxiety over how to traverse the paths of qualification and certification. AM will go more application specific, with value drivers triumphing over the appeal of new and different.
The technology is like a teenager. A little messy and a can be stinky, but you know they’re going to be great one day and the investment in time is worth it. The 2020’s will be bittersweet transition for AM. AM no longer gets by with just being special and new, it now must make business sense.