Throughout 2021, 3D Systems, Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, reports it witnessed the increasing adoption of Additive Manufacturing solutions, as organisations explored its suitability for a broader range of uses. This included industrial applications such as exotic machine components for rocketry, automobiles, and semiconductor capital equipment, as well as in healthcare for patient-specific medical devices and tools that can elevate the patient experience.
“More organisations are thoughtfully exploring AM for very specific applications and wanting to work with a partner who can not only integrate the entire solution and make it work seamlessly in their existing production workflow but also collaborate on developing a custom solution for their needs,” explained Jeffrey Graves, president & CEO.
“As we enter 2022, I believe we’ll continue to see AM play a critical role in transforming manufacturing workflows and supply chains. Significant delays in logistics are hampering organisations’ ability to deliver products and services in a timely fashion; being able to manufacture all critical components at the point of assembly, or point of care can streamline these activities,” added Graves.
As software tools are consolidated, 3D Systems expects organisations to realise the full potential of autonomous manufacturing in increasing productivity and flexibility, which, in turn, may lead to improved development of manufacturing processes overall.
While the company expects software to streamline, however, it anticipates that machine technology will become more bespoke to the varying requirements of each industry, and segments within those industries. Materials will invariably develop to withstand harsher requirements, expanding the applicability of AM whilst creating narrowed use cases for newly developed materials.
Dr Brent Stucker, Chief Scientist, Additive Manufacturing, stated, “I expect many companies will not only enhance their core offering but will also broaden their portfolio to offer their customers a more complete suite of technology – and thus a complete solution – under one brand.”
“As AM is moving more and more towards production applications, material formulators are increasingly designing materials that are production-quality. Over the coming year, I expect we’ll see new polymer and metal materials designed for more rigorous use-case environments. I believe companies will also begin to introduce new 3D printers designed for specific applications, part sizes, or material offerings. This will result in more cost-effective solutions for production applications rather than the more generic multi-material, multi-application prototyping machines of the past.”
“Underlying these new printers,” Dr Stucker continued, “I think we’ll also see improved software and machine monitoring solutions announced, such that machines will monitor their health and notify operators when things are going wrong and/or start correcting for errors automatically. I also expect AM users to migrate to complete software platforms focused on AM, versus collections of individual software products. This can provide customers more functionality under one software platform rather than needing to jump around between software tools to accomplish their goals.”
While, due to their highly regulated natures, the medical and dental industries cannot adopt new technologies at a lightning pace, Menno Ellis, EVP, Healthcare Solutions, noted a steady increase in the use cases for AM in those sectors, including bespoke surgical tools and implanted devices.
“As COVID has confronted companies worldwide with supply chain constraints, this has served as a further catalyst for leading-edge medical and dental point of care providers to bring the production of implants and appliances closer to the patient,” Ellis noted. ”The capabilities and economic benefits of 3D printing solutions are well suited to these initiatives, and we expect increased activity in this space.”