Earlier this year, research firm IDTechEx released a report on metal 3D printing, estimating its value to reach $18.5 billion within 10 years. As part of this research, IDTechEx has conducted an analysis of the future of the metal 3D printing market by comparing various existing metal 3D printing processes, seeking to understand the key trends in the field and possible future revenue streams. Powder bed process, shaped deposition, wire extrusion: which technology should you focus on? What is the future of metal 3D printing?
IDTechEx analyzed and compared 14 metal 3D printing processes. It includes current mainstream technologies such as binder jetting, shaped energy deposition, extrusion, and laser powder bed melting, as well as less popular technologies such as electrochemical deposition and cold spraying. The categories compared are: build volume, speed, accuracy, price (both equipment and materials), and post-processing steps to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each technology.
Current market trends:
Price and build size are two key factors that users are particularly sensitive to. The price involves both equipment and materials. Among them, the price of materials is a major obstacle for many companies to enter the metal 3D printing market, because the current metal 3D printing is mainly based on laser powder bed fusion, which requires the use of metal powder. Although metal powders produced by a variety of processes are currently on the market, homogeneous metal powders are relatively expensive. As a result, one of the current trends is the continuous development of extrusion technology, which can use metal wires, metal rods and metal particles as materials, reducing the cost of use.
Another trend is that build sizes continue to expand, making metal 3D printing more possible. Because mainstream metal 3D printing requires hot-melt materials, when the printed part is cooled, it is easy to deform due to thermal stress and other factors, and the larger the volume, the greater the probability of deformation. New technologies such as cold spray break through the limitations and can print large metal parts, which improves the use of metal 3D printing.
After solving the problems of price and build size, metal 3D printing will focus on solving problems such as surface finish and overall strength of the printer, so that metal 3D printed parts can be applied in more conditions. Furthermore, current metal 3D printing has to trade off between speed and resolution. That is, the faster the printing, the rougher the surface, the slower the printing, the smoother the surface. In the future, this will also be a problem that metal 3D printing needs to focus on.