As 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), moves from prototyping to end-part manufacturing, the companies supplying printing materials will be looking to develop products that are application-based rather than adopt a one-material-fits all strategy. The suppliers are keenly aware that better performing materials are required to accommodate customer specifications and help 3D printing achieve its potential in the direct manufacturing of finished parts. System suppliers and chemical companies have already introduced superior materials such as polyetherimide (PEI), polyaryletherketone (PAEKs), carbon-fiber reinforced grades and a wide range of performance metal powders. Product innovation and differentiation will go a long way in enhancing the use of 3D printing for functional part manufacturing or mass customization.
Additive manufacturing (AM) formulations market in 3D Printing earned revenues of US$428.1 bln in 2014 and is estimated to reach US$920.4 bln in 2020, as per Frost & Sullivan. AM has taken off in North America and Europe, as they are the hubs of key industries such as aerospace, medical/dental and electronics that have embraced the 3D printing revolution. Similarly, China and South Korea are expected to become 3D printing hotspots for materials and equipment manufacturing. In response, global chemical companies need to formulate a viable, long-term strategy that involves establishing manufacturing facilities in Asia as well. "While opportunities are expanding, the chemicals market is held back to some extent because most chemical manufacturers supplying raw materials and formulations do not have a dedicated supply strategy in place for the 3D printing market," said Frost & Sullivan's Visionary Science Industry Manager Deepak Karthikeyan. "This can be attributed to the low volumes in the market and the relatively huge investments the suppliers need to make."
Furthermore, 3D printing material suppliers, notably those that provide formulation services, observed that even though the current volumes are low, there is high demand for technical support from system manufacturers and users. This, in turn, compels suppliers to place a heavy price tag on their materials. To mitigate the price and raw material challenges, solution suppliers have to scout for possible acquisition opportunities based on the product portfolio and market expertise. Increasing adoption of fused filament fabrication and laser sintering technologies in the industrial and the consumer space are driving the demand for plastic filaments and powders respectively. Simultaneously, even though the market for metal powders is small, they are finding uptake in industries such as aerospace, automotive and medical, which are increasingly using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and electron beams. "With concepts such as smart factories and digital manufacturing picking up pace 3D printing is expected to gain further traction across various end-user industries pushing the envelope for higher performance materials," noted Karthikeyan. "Solution suppliers that provide a holistic solution to end users will dominate the market due to their proximity to the end user and comprehensive understanding of market challenges."
Key Findings includes:
* Plastic powder and photopolymer formulations generated most of the demand for 3 Dimensional (3D) printing applications, although sterelithography, which use photopolymers, are comparatively mature.
* A few of the biggest challenges for 3D printing materials have been the uncertain material supply scenario, lack of consistency in end-part production and higher prices.
* Rapid prototyping still remains the main requirement for many companies employing 3D printing processes. Part manufacturing is a trend that a few industries such as aerospace and medical are experimenting with.
* Solution suppliers that provide a holistic solution to end users dominate most of the additive manufacturing markets mainly because of their proximity to the end user and comprehensive understanding of challenges.
* Companies across the value, especially material manufacturers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), have to strive to understand the market from a vantage point in order to address the dynamic future needs of the industry and prepare for disruptive trends.
* Industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical are increasingly using Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Electron Beam. Melting (EBM) technologies to produce prototypes as well as end-use parts.
* Most material companies have an opportunistic view of the 3D printing market, however, as companies start developing a focused approach toward 3D printing, the business model will change significantly.