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新聞資訊

AM技術前瞻

London-based workflow solutions provider AMFG recently published a whitepaper examining the additive manufacturing (AM) landscape in 2020, reflecting emerging industry trends while also acknowledging the overshadowing influence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paper notes that industrialization of 3D printing is a common goal shared by the companies included in its analysis. It paints a picture of a rapidly maturing and increasingly diversifying industry, with an estimated global worth over $10 billion.

“Finally, the industry has overcome the hype of the last decade to emerge as a viable manufacturing technology in its own right,” the report states. By focusing on industrial applications, AM companies have begun to create “use cases that make mainstream adoption of the technology viable.”

To be sure, there are challenges, such as the landscape’s “highly fragmented nature.” Hardware manufacturers, representing its largest segment, tend to develop “end-to-end” solutions that result in closed systems and siloed processes. The next-largest sector, material suppliers, are similarly hampered by a proprietary model that results in higher prices and a slower pace of innovation.

Nevertheless, the report identifies positive trends shaping these and other areas. Examples include modularization of machine architecture to improve workflow efficiency, and the formation of partnerships for material development within an open model.

Trends in printer technologies

There are more polymer 3D printers in use than any other type. Polymer technologies include powder bed fusion (PBF), which have the greatest industrial appeal due to high productivity and potential for volume manufacturing; fused filament fabrication (FFF), which generated the most revenue in professional environments in 2019; and resin-based technologies including stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP), which are increasingly being used for production in industries such as dental and consumer goods.

Figure 1: The year 2020 has presented an opportunity for additive manufacturing to demonstrate its value in the mainstream. Desktop 3D printers have also become a “vital part of the industrial landscape,” offering smaller systems at a fraction of the cost of their larger counterparts. Applications extend beyond prototyping into the creation of “anything from high-strength tooling to spare parts.”

PBF is the most widely used technology for metal 3D printers, particularly in the medical and aerospace fields. By contrast, direct energy deposition (DED), with its key applications in large parts manufacturing and repair, “remains largely a niche technology.” However, the report points to a growing trend for DED systems to be integrated with CNC machining, producing hybrid manufacturing capabilities. A new segment of compact metal 3D printers allowing for functional prototyping, tooling and low-volume manufacturing is also experiencing rapid growth.

Still in the early stages of development are 3D printers for both ceramics and electronics; each appears to hold significant promise. The report also gives a nod to composite 3D printing, a new segment beginning to make headway thanks to its ability to streamline the resource-intensive process of traditional composite manufacturing.

Trends in other segments

Looking past hardware, the report notes that “the 3D printing materials market is continuing to grow steadily,” with over 1,000 types of polymer materials and over 800 metal powders currently available. Demand for high-performance polymers able to withstand harsh environments and high temperatures is also growing.

Software development, which has historically proceeded at a slower pace than other segments, is said to be catching up; advancements include the introduction of workflow software developed specifically for AM. Post-processing technologies that allow workflow to be fully automated are also opening new possibilities.

Finally, service providers have proved their worth through the unique circumstances of the pandemic, offering on-demand production to counter supply chain disruptions of medical supplies and other equipment.

Trends globally

According to the report, North America remains the largest AM adopter; in the United States, “industries like aerospace, industrial goods and medical are making AM one of their key investment and research areas.” In other global regions, several governments — Germany, China, United Arab Emirates and others — are channeling investment to support the growth of the industry. There is also significant opportunity for producing metal 3D printing materials on the African continent, thanks to its rich natural reserves.

The report concludes on a decidedly positive note, acknowledging the global uncertainty of 2020 while also noting the opportunity it presents for AM to demonstrate “its value in the mainstream.” Given the ongoing nature of the pandemic, that opportunity appears to remain open as the 2020s get underway.

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