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Can Additive Manufacturing Supply Keep Up With Demand?

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8. July 2014

Calling the announcement “one of the most significant milestones in the history of the additive manufacturing industry” in a July 3 post, Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates sees GE Aviation’s decision to utilize additive manufacturing (AM) for all the fuel nozzles on its LEAP engines as game-changing vote of confidence in the process, noting:

 

A major corporation publically declared its confidence in AM for a demanding production application in a hostile and critical operating environment.

 

Should GE’s move convince other OEMs that AM is ready for production prime time in critical components, Caffrey believes the end result could tip AM’s supply and demand dynamic out of balance.

 

Let’s assume the GE fuel nozzle is only the first of many metal production parts launched in the near term, and more parts from the aerospace, medical, dental, jewelry, and (eventually) automotive sectors will follow. Can the AM industry meet this significant demand? 

 

Noting that EOS has received an order for 100 of its laser sintering systems just as a result of GE’s nozzle project, Wohlers takes the position that the budding industry will not be able to keep pace.

 

We believe that the metal AM supply chain—consisting of system manufacturers, material suppliers, and certified service providers—will not be able to keep pace with demand.

 

Global plastics processing machinery demand is expected to expand 7.0 percent annually through 2017 to $37.6 billion, according to a new RNR Market Research report, with 3D printing to lead the way. Noting that the technology would grow the fastest of any plastics processing equipment, albeit from a relatively small market base, the report saw several reasons be bullish about AM in plastics.

 

3D printers offer more flexibility in product design than traditional machines and will provide functional competition to injection molding equipment for custom-made parts, as well as in other low output and prototyping applications…advances in 3D printer technology and falling product prices will broaden the market for plastics processing machinery to include utilization by individual consumers.

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