The rise of additive manufacturing can’t be traced to any single event. Dr. Jörg Bromberger, director of strategy and operations at McKinsey, has seen each modern wave of interest transform this technology into a multi-billion-dollar market poised for even more growth.
According to Dr. Bromberger, an expert on manufacturing and supply chains, the first wave came in 2014 from niche applications that reached mainstream awareness – such as 3D printed skulls for neurosurgeon patients. These unique stories piqued the interest of different industries. The second wave came a year later when governments began fully embracing additive manufacturing as a key part of their development strategy.
The wave we’re in began several years ago when additive manufacturing exploded with aggressive business building in all areas, from materials to technologies to new business models.
We interviewed Dr. Bromberger to get insights into what’s fueling additive manufacturing’s growth, improving sustainability, and where the industry is headed.
In your article, “The mainstreaming of additive manufacturing,” you wrote about how additive manufacturing has grown to a multi-billion-dollar market with annual growth rates of about 20% or more. Can you explain this growth?
The additive manufacturing market is not homogenous , and the growth is two-folded.
New entrants contribute the most to growth, with about a 25% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). These companies are driving major performance improvements of AM technologies such as support-free printing for overhanging parts
The established players are growing slower at about a 10% CAGR. These incumbents provided the first generation of machines and have already saturated the market with their machines for existing use cases
While there are challenges – such as an employee knowledge gap in design and long development cycles of OEMs – additive manufacturing is on a high-speed development track. For comparison, look at robotics. The modern concepts of robotics were around 70 years ago, but only now has that market reached exponential growth.
How will industries benefit from additive manufacturing?
Four major dimensions drive the value of additive manufacturing for different use cases across industries:
Performance: High-value parts with increased performance. For example, topology-optimized brackets in the aerospace industry reduce weight and save costs.
Customization: Mass-customized parts that can be produced without individual production molds in the printer (e.g., implants in the medical sector or customized shoes for consumers).
Time to Market: Faster production and development cycles by rapid prototyping (e.g., automotive engines)
Obsolescence: Reduction of spare part inventories and manufacturing out-of-production parts across asset-heavy industries such as railway and aerospace.
The last couple of years has seen more and more companies face supply chain resiliency challenges. Does additive manufacturing have the potential to overcome those challenges?
Decentralized production is the dream - being able to send build files securely around the globe and printing parts on-demand and on-site.
The reality is more challenging. One problem is that the relatively small part scope and the need for machine quality reliability make it difficult to set up cost-efficient production centers. There’s also fear of IP theft as additive manufacturing shifts the competence focus from manufacturing know-how to design know-how, increasing the risk of 3D file theft.
I predict a rise in regional production hubs or micro-factories. These will be built close to the point of use. For example, at an airport to benefit the aerospace industry.
Sustainability is a major point of focus for organizations. How does additive manufacturing help?
The primary way additive manufacturing can help companies reach sustainability goals is through manufactured parts. The aerospace industry, for example, can create lighter parts that lead to reduced fuel consumption.
Regardless of industry, the additive manufacturing process has a limited – yet positive – impact on sustainability. A large amount of material not used during production can be recycled to be used in future production, limiting waste.
So what do companies need to look for when choosing the right additive manufacturing supplier?
Knowledge is essential. A supplier must be your partner throughout the exploration chain and educate you on the benefits of additive manufacturing. That means support with part identification, starting non-critical use cases for education reasons, and bringing non-critical and critical parts to production.
Quality is critical. A reliable and repeatable printing process requires a lot of parameters that must be optimized for the serial production of an individual part. Regular providers rarely offer industrial-grade quality, instead seeking a higher utilization of mix-and-match build jobs. Suppliers must know this trade-off and provide the right solution for the correct part requirements.
Next, on-time delivery is key – especially for the spare parts segment and urgent use cases.
Naturally, the cost is at the forefront. Attractive prices are essential to challenge conventionally manufactured solutions. However, designs must be improved for additive in co-creation with suppliers to reach cost objectives. Companies need to focus on developing products specifically designed for additive manufacturing to find truly valuable use cases. Simply printing conventionally manufactured parts is only a short-term solution.
What trends are on the horizon for additive manufacturing?
I have several predictions.
First, the industry will shift from buying machines with capital expenditures toward contractual manufacturing. This enables OEMs to integrate new technology entrants into their supply chains and to use the right technologies for the right use cases.
Finally, consortiums and partnerships will enable new supply chain opportunities and address the need for end-to-end integration to industrialize additive manufacturing fully.
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