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Additive Manufacturing in 2019

January 13, 2019

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:23

In recent months and years, the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry has been anything but dull, with stirring news nearly every week. Last week, for example, footwear product company Dr. Scholl’s announced a partnership with Wiivv to produce custom insoles by AM. I own a pair of the Wiivv-branded custom insoles (see the left image in the following) and wrote about them here.

The next 12 months will offer a wide range of interesting, even exciting, developments in AM. We will see companies of all types bridge the chasm from stand-alone AM systems to developing end-to-end solutions for final part production. A few companies have made a lot of progress, but most others are in the early phase. One challenge is to organize many systems at multiple sites. This means managing capacity, sending the right jobs to the correct facilities, and tracking progress. It’s one thing to do it for prototypes, but it is dramatically more difficult to conform to manufacturing quality standards and procedures.

Methods of post-processing will further develop this year. Post-processing involves support material removal, clearing access material from holes and cavities, surface finishing, coloring, coating, texturing, and inspection. Metal parts may also require stress relief, hot isostatic pressing, CNC machining, additional heat treatment, and polishing. Automating some or most of these steps will contribute greatly toward justifying the cost of using AM for production volumes. Post-processing is an area in which each company is developing what it believes to be distinct know-how and IP—and keeping it to themselves—yet much of the work is similar from one company to the next.

Materialise founder and CEO Fried Vancraen said recently that 2019 will be a year of incremental steps and a continuation of a slow revolution. He also stated that applications, not technology, will drive the AM industry in the form of investment. I could not agree more with his views. The year may not bring anything that is completely game-changing. Yet, the collective effort of thousands of organizations worldwide will help to bring AM closer to maturity for production applications, such as the custom insoles from Dr. Scholl’s and Wiivv.