Lasers and 3D Printing--A Marriage Made In Heaven?

July 24, 2017
I’m a big fan of additive manufacturing.
Allen Nogee 720

I’m a big fan of additive manufacturing, or as it is often called, 3D printing. I myself own three FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D printers, which are basically automated hot-glue guns, and these are just a hobby for me, but additive manufacturing is starting to become a very potentially disruptive technology that needs to be carefully watched and evaluated.

When it comes to lasers, additive manufacturing and lasers intersect in some interesting ways. First, many types of additive manufacturing use various types of lasers as components in additive manufacturing printers. But additive manufacturing can also potentially displace some conventional (subtractive) laser manufacturing processes which are in use today. The multi-billion-dollar question is, in the end, will additive manufacturing be a laser friend or laser foe?

Today, it’s estimated that worldwide, additive manufactured products only represent 0.05% of the worldwide manufacturing market, and less than 1% of goods manufactured in the United States. But let’s focus a bit on just lasers. This year, I have forecast that worldwide material processing laser revenue will reach $3.0B worldwide, and of that, I believe $65M will be the revenue from lasers used for additive processing. This means that the percentage of lasers used in additive manufacturing verses the total of lasers in all of manufacturing as a whole in terms of revenue is roughly 2.2%. This is very encouraging, but keep in-mind, when you are talking about lasers, you are talking about equipment revenue not manufacturing revenue, and since additive manufacturing is a quite new technology, it’s natural for new equipment outlays to be relatively high, so not a complete apples-to-apples comparison.

What is the real problem when looking ahead at additive manufacturing? It’s that additive manufacturing technology is quickly evolving and it’s not 100% clear how it all will shake-out. There are two main additive manufacturing process technologies today that use a laser; 1) Stereolithography (SLA) where a resin is solidified when exposed to a light-source (sometimes a laser), and 2) Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and its cousins where a laser beam is scanned across a bed of material powder and melted into a solid object, layer by layer.

To read the full blog from Allen Nogee, click here.

About the Author

Allen Nogee | President, Laser Markets Research

Allen Nogee has over 30 years' experience in the electronics and technology industry including almost 20 years in technology market research. He has held design-engineering positions at MCI Communications, GTE, and General Electric, and senior research positions at In-Stat, NPD Group, and Strategies Unlimited.

Nogee has become a well-known and respected analyst in the area of lasers and laser applications, with his research and forecasts appearing in publications such as Laser Focus World, Industrial Laser Solutions, Optics.org, and Laser Institute of America. He has also been invited to speak at conferences such as the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO), Laser Focus World's Lasers & Photonics Marketplace Seminar, the European Photonics Industry Consortium Executive Laser Meeting, and SPIE Photonics West.

Nogee has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and a Master's of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

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