The Faces of Additive Manufacturing: Terry Wohlers
After Avi Reichental, Hanan Gothait, and Gil Lavi we continue our series on additive manufacturing personalities with Terry Wohlers. The well-known additive manufacturing expert has been active in the industry for over 30 years and is the man behind the famous Wohlers report. What does Terry Wohlers think of the current growth of the AM industry? What are the upcoming challenges? 3Dnatives spoke with him to find out more.
3DN: Could you introduce yourself and your work in regards to AM?
I am the founder and president of Wohlers Associates, Inc., a company that was launched in 1986. I also serve as principal consultant and a principal author of Wohlers Report 2019, the 24th annual edition of this state of the industry report. I also participate in a range of other activities, such as the series of design for AM (DfAM) courses we are conducting, speaking at industry events, and serving on committees and editorial boards.
3DN: Having been in the AM industry for such a long time, can you give us an idea of what it looked like 10-20 years ago?
Surprisingly, it did not look dramatically different. The major change is the impressive amount of investment we are now seeing in the industry. AM is now receiving the respect and attention it deserves. This has resulted in a major increase in industry, academic, and government events, publications, consortia, and many types of collaborative efforts. This investment has helped to launch countless startup companies for AM software tools and a range of services. This is quite different from many years ago.
3DN: What were the most crucial changes in the industry over the years?
For Wohlers Report 2019, we uncovered 177 manufacturers of industrial AM systems (those that sell for more than $5,000), up from 135 companies a year earlier. Since 2014, the number of system manufacturers has grown 360%. We are seeing similar growth in the number of companies offering materials for AM. As for demand, a growing number of product development and manufacturing organizations are purchasing AM products and services to support their needs. Some are transitioning to the use of AM for series production, which requires much more capacity, compared to prototyping and tooling applications. Meanwhile, revenue from metal materials grew an estimated 41.9% in 2018, continuing a five-year streak of more than 40% growth each year, according to our research for Wohlers Report 2019.
3DN: Can you give us more details on the technologies and materials you think will experience most growth?
Powder bed fusion for both metals and polymers is the most popular process for series production volumes. For basic concept modeling and design validation, material extrusion is the most popular, especially at small organizations and educational institutions. We believe both processes will continue to thrive in the future. Binder jetting processes for metal parts is gaining momentum. ExOne and Digital Metal have offered it for many years. Desktop Metal has installed its first binder jetting system at a customer site. GE Additive and HP are both preparing to commercialize systems based on this technology.
3DN: What are the remaining challenges to the global adoption of AM and how are they addressed?
Among the biggest challenges are the costs associated with AM machines and materials. Both are still expensive. Another is DfAM, which can be quite different than design for conventional manufacturing, both in methods and tools. Post-processing time and expense, coupled with the current lack of automation, are obstacles to growth. Supply chains and the AM ecosystem are underdeveloped, which is slowing the adoption of the technology.
Many companies, both large and small, are dedicating resources to solving these problems. It is not something that will happen soon. AM system manufacturers and third-party organizations are beginning to offer solutions, but they tend to address only parts of the challenge. Often, companies running AM equipment for series production need to develop partially or entirely custom solutions
3DN: Finally, have any news, companies or applications caught your eye in the last few months?
We have seen so much interesting news in recent months. Among the organizations that have caught my attention are America Makes, Divergent 3D, SPEE3D, the U.S. Marine Corps, Velo3D, and Wiivv. This is only a small sampling. In fact, it’s risky to name organizations because I’m sure I have omitted several that are deserving of recognition. I should also mention companies who have received large AM-related investments this year. Desktop Metal received $160 million in January, Markforged: $82 million in March, Carbon: $260 million in June, and Made In Space: $73.7 million in July.
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