Many industrial applications for Additive Manufacturing have been developed over the last five years or so. Industries such as aerospace, automotive and medical are embracing the advantages of AM and implementing the technology successfully.
Whether as a replacement for existing production methods on economic grounds, or because of the ability to produce components that have up until now been impossible, it is clear that AM will certainly have an impact on the future of manufacturing.
The growth in the Additive Manufacturing industry is predicted by many to be rapid and substantial, as more companies develop production equipment, more materials become available and more end-user industries adopt the technology. The global value of the industry is currently estimated to reach over $10 billion by 2021.
A regional breakdown of the introduction of metal AM machines published in the 2012 Wohlers report shows that the industry is a truly global one. Governments throughout the world have identified AM as a growth industry and are funding research projects to further develop the technology.
Metal AM offers new possibilities, not only in the design, but also in the choice of materials. For example, the technology is particularly attractive for the processing of advanced materials such as titanium, where conventional processes can be prohibitively expensive. This is also the case for a number of alloys which can only be manufactured under high cooling rates.
The list of potential applications for AM is extensive. The development of components for use in transportation, in which lightweight engineering plays an important role as an enabler for better mass distribution, is just one example.
The ability to produce customised products for the individual has already been demonstrated in the medical and orthodontic sectors, but this flexibility could offer huge potential in the consumer goods market. Production lines implementing manufacturing on demand could also be created using layer based technologies.
For a better acceptance of AM some barriers need to be overcome, namely application knowledge, standards and norms for material quality.
Despite the huge potential that Additive Manufacturing offers, it is unrealistic to think that current manufacturing methods will all be replaced with AM. The vision of one machine producing any shape with unlimited material variations is highly unlikely. Growth will be seen in opening new horizons and enabling the manufacturing of components that were not possible before.