Industry Briefing

March 2012

The Future of Additive Manufacturing

Low-cost 3D printers affect both the professional and consumer markets. The increased sale of these machines over the past few years has taken additive manufacturing (AM) mainstream more than any other single development. 3D printers have helped spread the technology and made it more accessible to students, researchers, do-it-yourself enthusiasts, hobbyists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Designers and engineers are considering new approaches when developing products for additive manufacturing. The old habits of “design for manufacture” could become a thing of the past, as AM can make almost any shape or geometric feature. As AM systems and materials are used more frequently for manufacturing, expect to see new products that previously would have been very difficult or impossible to manufacture.

The additive manufacturing industry is expected to continue its double-digit growth over the next several years. By 2016, Wohlers Associates believes that the sale of AM products and services will reach $3.1 billion worldwide, as shown in this chart. By 2020, the industry is expected to hit $5.2 billion. (The numbers in the vertical axis are in millions of dollars.)

The future development with the greatest impact may be one that is impossible to anticipate. Terms such as “outlier” and “paradigm change” describe this phenomenon, an event or development from beyond our narrow vision that is difficult to predict and changes everything. In the context of the AM industry, this could be a new material, a new application, or an industry certification. Or it could be a development outside the industry, such as a web interface for product co-creation, global security or trade issue, or an energy or climate crisis, to speculate on a few possibilities.

Note: The previous information was taken from Wohlers Report 2011, a 270-page global study focusing on the advances in additive manufacturing and 3D printing worldwide. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at

Wohlers Talk: Jim Kor and His Car

Chances are reasonably good that you have read about the Urbee car. It is the brainchild of Jim Kor, an intriguing individual that I had the privilege of meeting in October 2011 in Winnipeg, Canada. He gripped my attention, from start to finish, as he presented the history of Urbee at a special conference organized by the Industrial Technology Centre of Winnipeg. It was not difficult to notice Jim’s passion for designing what could become the most energy-efficient car on the planet. With a drag coefficient of 0.15, it is quite possibly the most aerodynamic. A third-generation Toyota Prius has a drag coefficient of 0.25.

As a mechanical engineer, Jim designed farm machinery for Winnipeg manufacturers before starting his own firm, KOR Product Design, 30 years ago. Urbee was conceived 15 years ago as Jim’s third vehicle project. Today, a core team of a dozen people make up KOR EcoLogic, a Canadian company that is wholly owned by them, with a goal of getting Urbee into mass production. I was struck by Jim’s obsession with Urbee.

Just days before meeting Jim, he had driven the car some distance as part of an open highway test. The two-passenger vehicle is designed to be exceptionally fuel efficient, safe, and inexpensive. It uses electric motors and is capable of 200 mpg when running on an 8 hp ethanol-powered engine, which serves as a backup. The car is expected to reach 70 mph.

On September 21, 2011, the BBC reported that Urbee had been in development for many years, but its finished 3D-printed body had never been seen in the public. That was true until its unveiling at TEDxWinnipeg in September 2011 and again two weeks later at the Winnipeg conference that we were attending. About 100 people in attendance got to see it and two of us were invited to sit in the driver’s seat. With the support of Stratasys, FDM additive manufacturing technology was used to produce the entire body of the car. The Urbee team did an outstanding job with the finish of the body.

I truly hope that Jim and his team can secure the investment needed to take the car into production. Urbee deserves a chance in the marketplace and I suspect it will get it. The car has received an impressive amount national and international press, so it may be only a matter of time before the right people come together. Jim’s best-case scenario would make the car available in 2014. The price might be $50,000 in limited production, but it could drop to $10,000 in mass production.

Note: Wohlers Talk is a blog that offers views, perspective, and commentary on rapid product development and a wide range of other topics. Nearly 240 commentaries have been published. To view them, visit


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