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Additive Manufacturing Gears Up for Increased Volume Production and Specialized Materials

Published on June 12, 2024 by Isaac B.

Recently, Protolabs released a comprehensive report shedding light on the latest trends within the additive manufacturing market, spanning uses, innovations, and key statistics. According to the report, the printing market is projected to soar to $28.07 billion by 2024 and a staggering $57.1 billion by 2028, showcasing a growth rate surpassing previous estimations by 10.5%. This surge is particularly welcome news for an industry that has weathered its share of challenges in recent times. Furthermore, the study underscores the increasing prevalence and acceptance of mass production employing 3D technologies—a trend that hardly comes as a surprise. Noteworthy among the emerging trends highlighted in the report are the advancements in artificial intelligence, the advent of novel materials, and the integration of additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques.

While the sector has seen some downturns of late, it would appear that growth is still positive, driven in particular by verticals that are still dynamic and full of opportunities. One example is the medical sector. According to the findings of the Protolabs study, a significant 77% of respondents identify the medical sector as holding the greatest potential impact within the market. Within this sector, SLA 3D printing dominates, offering the capability to produce intricate, high-fidelity details with remarkable precision. Additionally, noteworthy is the notable surge in additive manufacturing utilization within the agriculture sector, primarily leveraging FDM technology. Moreover, the transportation sector emerges as the leading producer of 3D printed finished parts.

Industries where additive manufacturing is expected to have the greatest impact (Photo Credits: Protolabs)

If we now turn our attention to the applications of additive manufacturing, the Protolabs report is clear: the trend is towards the creation of finished parts in higher volumes. While prototyping remains high (67%), 76% of participants say they have 3D printed more than 10 parts, a figure that was only 36% in 2020. The study shows that more and more professionals are turning to additive manufacturing, whatever the process, to create parts in volume, whereas previously, injection molding was preferred.

Certainly, a myriad of factors will sway the decision-making process when it comes to selecting a manufacturing method. Considerations such as post-processing requirements, software capabilities, and certification and standardization protocols naturally come to the forefront. Notably, the latter aspect proves especially stringent within the aerospace, medical, and automotive sectors. However, amidst these challenges, there is a noticeable shift occurring—a growing inclination within the market toward standardizing processes, materials, and other pertinent elements to the greatest extent possible.

Additive Manufacturing Market Trends

A large part of Protolabs’ report is devoted to trends in the sector and the various developments that are likely to change it. One of the points highlighted is the work being done on materials for 3D printing. The range of materials on offer has expanded considerably in recent years, with solutions that meet specific constraints, often by market. Adam Hecht of design studio 3DP DIVE stated, “Companies are designing blends tailored for 3D printing, creating materials geared for very specific applications within 3D printing, whether that’s conventional thermoplastics that have been re-engineered for 3D printing, or resins that aren’t just for prototyping, but for very specialized, high-temperature, high-elasticity types of applications.” It’s the material that brings the desired properties to the part, and it’s a central element in the additive manufacturing workflow, which will undoubtedly see impressive growth over the next few years. It’s no coincidence that multi-material 3D printing is growing so fast.

Main trends identified (photo credits: Protolabs)

Another trend is artificial intelligence: how can we use this technology to automate our processes, collect data, and be more productive? It could help users fine-tune their 3D printers, improve their designs, avoid printing errors, and more.

Finally, hybrid manufacturing is set to play an increasingly important role in the market. The aim is to combine all the advantages of additive manufacturing with those of subtractive processes and enable more intelligent production. Some machines have been developed along these lines and feature multiple tool heads. In any case, this emerging trend warrants observation as it has the potential to significantly alter our production methods.

In conclusion, the Protolabs report shows rather encouraging results for the additive manufacturing sector, with multiple possibilities and innovations. The future will surely hold a few more pleasant surprises! You can download the full report HERE.

What do you see as the most significant additive manufacturing trends within the sector? Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly newsletter here for the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

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