The Future of Additive Manufacturing

March 6, 2012
Industry expert, Terry Wohlers, comments on the future for additive manufacturing.

Fort Collins, CO – Terry Wohlers remarks on the future for additive manufacturing in his latest industry briefing. Low-cost 3D printers affect both the professional and consumer markets. The increased sale of these machines over the past few years has taken additive manufacturing (AM) mainstream more than any other single development. 3D printers have helped spread the technology and made it more accessible to students, researchers, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, hobbyists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Designers and engineers are considering new approaches when developing products for additive manufacturing. The old habits of “design for manufacture” could become a thing of the past, as AM can make almost any shape or geometric feature. As AM systems and materials are used more frequently for manufacturing, expect to see new products that previously would have been very difficult or impossible to manufacture.

The additive manufacturing industry is expected to continue its double-digit growth over the next several years. By 2016, Wohlers Associates believes that the sale of AM products and services will reach $3.1 billion worldwide, as shown in this chart. By 2020, the industry is expected to hit $5.2 billion. (The numbers in the vertical axis are in millions of dollars.)

The future development with the greatest impact may be one that is impossible to anticipate. Terms such as “outlier” and “paradigm change” describe this phenomenon, an event or development from beyond our narrow vision that is difficult to predict and changes everything. In the context of the AM industry, this could be a new material, a new application, or an industry certification. Or it could be a development outside the industry, such as a web interface for product co-creation, global security or trade issue, or an energy or climate crisis, to speculate on a few possibilities.

Note: This information was taken from Wohlers Report 2011, a 270-page global study focusing on the advances in additive manufacturing and 3D printing worldwide. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at http://wohlersassociates.com.

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