Metal 3D printing has been one of the emerging markets in the modern world with a considerable contribution to the global gross domestic product (GDP). The growing adoption, especially in the aerospace and defense, followed by medical and healthcare, has led to the growth of this industry. For instance, in the aerospace sector, Boeing has started using titanium parts for its structural components in its Dreamliner 787 aircraft, supplied by Norsk Titanium. Another aviation giant, GENERAL ELECTRIC, has started using 3D printed cobalt-chrome fuel nozzles for its Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion (LEAP) aircraft engines. In medical and healthcare, products such as dental frameworks, bio-implants, and surgical instruments are developed through metal 3D printing. Some of the companies involved in the metal 3D printing of medical equipment are Renishaw plc, Materialise, INCREDIBLE AM PVT LTD., 3D HUBS B.V., and 3D Systems, Inc. The automotive industry has witnessed an entry-level adoption of metal 3D printing, particularly at the prototype stage. For instance, BUGATTI AUTOMOBILES S.A.S. has been using 3D printed titanium for its brake caliper in its Bugatti Chiron supercar.
However, there are certain regulatory bodies which have set some standards for the metal 3D printed objects, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International, the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the MATERIAL MEASUREMENT LABORATORY at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Standards Council of Canada. For instance, ASTM International has proposed a standard F3303 which addresses methods of qualifying processes and 3D printers, which are utilized for the development of parts using laser or electron beam powder bed fusion. Another standard F3318 has been developed by the ASTM International, which is addressed for supporting 3D printed parts of aluminum alloys on powder bed fusion based on a laser.
The technology has been witnessing adoption in various end-use industries, such as aerospace and defense, medical and healthcare, automotive, and other general engineering applications (tool and die and construction). Among these, the maximum adoption has been witnessed toward the aerospace and defense sector mainly due to the ability of the process of producing highly complex-shape objects of aircraft (engines and structural components) in quick time with high dimensional accuracy. This is followed by the medical and healthcare segment, which has been utilizing the technology for developing bio-implants and various surgical instruments. In the automotive sector, the adoption has been limited to the prototyping stage for producing certain specific parts for high-end vehicles. Using this technology for mass production of automobile parts is unviable at the moment as the technology adds to the cost of production, which ultimately has a direct impact on the pricing of the automobiles, affecting the buying capacity of the general masses.
The market dynamics for metal 3D printing is prone to various driving and restraining factors. The growing adoption of this technology towards the various end-use industries, such as aviation, aerospace and defense, and medical and healthcare, has been pushing this market with greater thrust. The major factors for the increased adoption of this technology can be attributed to the cost-effectiveness of the process, meaning that despite having high initial costs associated with the process, it serves as an economical manufacturing route as it is capable of producing in-house metal objects in quick time, without getting affected by disruptions in the supply chain. Also, the technology offers greater design flexibility and is capable of producing complex objects which are highly cumbersome to produce through conventional manufacturing techniques.
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However, there are certain factors which have been restricted the widespread adoption of the technology, such as high initial investments, which include prices of metal powders and metal 3D printers followed by proper education and research and development (R&D) for getting accustomed to the technology and creating a skilled workforce. As the technology is still in its development stage for various metals/alloys, the issue related to the strength of the 3D printed objects always prevails. The process needs various optimizations during its operation followed by the post-processing steps, such as heat treatment, meant for relieving the residual internal stresses. In the long run, as the technology gets matured with more enhancements/improvisations in the process, these restraints and problems are expected to get sorted. For instance, SLEDM has the potential of replacing the usual SLM and EBM processes of powder-bed fusion as it capable of reducing the time consumption toward the high-volume metal 3D printing and the manual post-processing steps.