The newcomer is coming of age
3D printing uses raw metals such as steel, titanium, or aluminum – typically in powdered form or as metal wire – to create a part from the ground up. Lasers are used to melt the powder and then apply it layer by layer based on previously defined CAD data until the desired shape is created. The process allows not only complex geometries to be produced, as in the case with the “Catalyst” turbine, but also for multifunctional parts to be designed. As in the past every part only had one function, this is one of the most impressive and disruptive features of 3D printing. Various production steps that are necessary in traditional metalworking are then no longer needed, and only a comparably small amount of the sometimes expensive raw material is required.
These benefits are helping 3D printing gradually gain a foothold in industrial production. According to market research firm IDC, investments in the technology grew by an impressive 24.1 percent per year between 2015 and 2020. Based on forecasts provided by consulting firm PwC Strategy, the worldwide market for 3D printed products and technologies in industry is likely to grow by between 13 and 23 percent per year up to 2030. The total market volume could then reach EUR 22.6 billion.
However, these predictions also raise questions as to how radical, fast, and fundamental the change brought about by 3D printing is likely to be. Will it really change all traditional production procedures used for metal components? Which processes and process steps will still be needed in future and which will not? How will this influence the added value chain and the roles of the companies involved?