Want confirmation that additive manufacturing (AM) is fast evolving from an effective way of creating prototypes to a serious alternative for full-scale production? Essentium claims to have goods, touting the results of a recent independent study that shows use of large-scale AM more than doubling over the last year for 70 percent of participating companies.
Highlights of the companies’ third annual study also found that the number of companies shifting to AM for full-scale production runs for hundreds, even thousands, of parts has doubled from 7% last year to 14% in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise in AM use—companies surveyed said they were using AM processes to make quantities of supplies at scale or at least to create the molds used to make the products so assembly lines could keep moving. Fifty-seven percent of manufacturers surveyed said they increased 3D printing for production parts to keep their supply chains flowing during the pandemic; in addition, nearly a quarter (24%) have gone all-in with AM while another quarter are ramping up to meet supply chain needs.
“As borders closed to prevent the spread of the virus, global supply chains were suddenly at risk,” notes Blake Teipel PhD, CEO and co-founder of Essentium. “Companies realized that AM could enable them to shift from sourcing parts from remote locations like China to on-site production facilities. AM accelerated their time to market because manufacturers could make parts in a matter of hours, solving the problem of waiting on global suppliers.”
Overall, survey respondents were bullish on the future of large-scale production AM. The majority (84%) believe AM investments will deliver a clear competitive advantage over the next five years while 87% say 3D printing will increasingly drive local manufacturing.
Even with the optimism, the Essentium survey found challenges remain. In particular, material innovation is necessary, both to address the historically high-cost of 3D printing materials and to deliver new, higher performance options, including polymers that meet certified standards for their specific applications, Teipel says. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents cited the high cost of 3D printing materials as an obstacle while 24% were stymied by unreliable materials.
To address those concerns, Essentium is continually developing and expanding its engineering-grade materials portfolio, which now include a new anti-static material aimed at the aerospace & defense and electronics manufacturing sectors, and new high-performance, heat-resistant materials.
While Essentium was aware that 3D printing had gained greater acceptance among large industrial players these last few years, Teipel admits being surprised by the strong sentiment to channel AM into full-scale production.
“The question has always been, how do you use this technology to cost-effectively create not just one or two items, but hundreds or thousands,” he says. “Manufacturing companies have finally cracked the code and there is no turning back. AM can help the manufacturing industry save billions of dollars in production costs while building stronger businesses that can withstand even a once-in-a-century crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For a deep dive into some of Essentium’s material innovations, check out this video.