It’s that special time of year when we start taking stock of what happened in the past year and begin looking ahead to 3D printing trends that may happen in the future. With that, let’s look ahead to 2019 in the world of 3D printing and additive manufacturing.
Plastic 3D Printing
The first thing that we think 2019 will be known for in the additive industry is plastic production 3D printing headlines. Leading the way in buzziness are global, multinational enterprise HP and Silicon Valley-funded Carbon, which garnered many headlines for their efforts introducing faster next-gen polymer printers. This, in turn, raised the efforts already underway by incumbent polymer 3D printing OEMs (or lit a fire under them, depending on your perspective), driving companies such as 3D Systems and Envisiontec to emphasize their abilities when it comes to production.
The second topic we expect to find prevalent in 2019 is a continued heating up of the metal extrusion 3D printing market. In 2018, there was a lot of legal infighting between leaders in the space, which likely slowed market penetration for these technologies. We expect these technologies to gain increased adoption in 2019. While much of the air about emerging metal 3D printing technologies is consumed by binder jetting, we still expect these technologies to gain traction, especially around tooling and prototyping work.
Metal 3D Printing
The third focal point for 2019 is the continued proliferation of technologies in the metal 3D printing market, which you can read about in-depth in our 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report. The fundamental issue at hand is that metal printing is still lacking on various levels as it relates to delivering production parts, particularly speed and cost. Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) technologies have garnered many headlines in recent years, particularly with programs in the aerospace and medical sectors. We can point to GE’s successes, both with fuel-injection nozzles and sensor housings, as great reference points that reflect the broader trend within the aerospace industry. We can also point to successes in the medical industry around implants, particularly in Europe and other overseas markets. These 3D printing trends within the powder bed will continue to emerge, although the technology remains too pricey to displace traditional technologies for all but the most complex and/or low-volume metal parts in the market. Expect further advancements in the speed of powder bed fusion but also the continued emergence of new metal printing technologies. These emerging metal technologies are not as likely to battle powder bed fusion head-on for highly complex and precise geometries so much as they attempt to steal market share from casting and metal injection molding technologies.
The fourth and final focal point for 2019 is the continued expansion of material options. As we mentioned, production is the buzzword in the additive-manufacturing industry right now. Obviously, the material science underlying some new resins have facilitated the arrival of production polymer applications for Carbon and the Futurecraft shoes we mentioned earlier. We expect that continued exploration of thermoset resin and thermoplastics will be pushed by players in the polymer market to open doors to specific market niches. The opportunity seems even richer within the metals market for custom alloys. Given the relative expense and weight of plastic parts to metal ones, the benefits of utilizing additive to eliminate weight and improve performance for metal 3D printing are significant. Taken a step further, the stresses inherent in printing metal relative to plastic are greater. As a result, the opportunity to explore new alloys better suited to this process and/or the opportunity to introduce new metals into the additive universe through new processes is great. We anticipate 2019 heralding the meaningful arrival of some new alloys in the market.
A final area we see prominently impact the additive-manufacturing industry in 2019 is advancement in 3D printing-related software, especially generative design and simulation.
Generative design, as you may be aware, is a technology that allows for designers to enter design parameters, and then the software algorithmically develops designs based on those parameters. Empowered by 3D printing, these software packages can explore geometries fundamentally more complex and organic than conventional design would typically create. In theory, such designs allow for higher levels of performance and reductions in material usage. In practice, the industry is still a little way away from such software making a noticeable impact on the broader scene.
Another 3D printing trend that also stands to positively impact the advancement of additive in 2019 is simulation software. A close cousin of generative design, simulation software allows for companies to identify optimal performance characteristics in parts, but perhaps more importantly for the 3D printing industry, identify whether a part will be printable on a first pass. As this technology evolves, the opportunity for additive to continue its takeoff grows, making the technology and its benefits more accessible to designers who don’t have a career’s worth of experience designing parts for additive manufacturing.
It promises to be an exciting and eventful 2019 in the world of 3D printing. We look forward to sharing it with you!