Our preparation for the publication of Wohlers Report 2013 revealed some interesting data: 16 companies in Europe, 7 in China, 5 in the U.S., and 2 in Japan now manufacture and sell professional-grade, industrial additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing systems. (We use the two terms interchangeably.) This is a dramatic change from a decade ago when the mix was 10 in the U.S., 7 in Europe, 7 in Japan, and 3 in China.
Is the U.S. losing its edge in AM? This data on AM systems manufacturing and sales suggests that it is. What’s more, all of the metal powder bed fusion systems are manufactured outside the U.S. Seven manufacturers of these systems are in Europe and two are in China. Together, China, Singapore, many countries in Europe, and even South Africa, have committed hundreds of millions of dollars in AM development and commercialization over the next few years.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with the largest installed base of AM users. When Wohlers Report 2013 becomes available soon, it will report that 38% of all industrial AM installations are in the U.S. Japan is second with 9.7%, followed by Germany with 9.4% and China with 8.7%. With such a large number of systems, one could argue that the U.S. has the most experience, expertise, and know-how in AM.
The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) was launched last year by the White House with the support of several agencies, including the Department of Defense. This initiative seeks to accelerate the position of the U.S. in the development and use of AM technology. It will not be easy, given what organizations in China and other regions of the world have planned.
My recommendation to key leaders in the U.S. is to focus on the big picture with big goals, such as the development of metal-based powder bed fusion systems and other advanced AM system technology. Market forces and competitive pressures will take care of the smaller challenges and incremental technology improvements.