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Consumable Strategies

May 11, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:34

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

The classic example of the “closed” consumable model is the Gillette razor. The razor itself is surprisingly inexpensive, but the buyer is locked into purchasing the manufacturer’s blades for the life of the product. An example of the “open” consumable model is the manufacturing industry. Buyers of CNC machines, injection molding presses, and most other manufacturing tools are free to use any feedstock they chose. These customers would resist the idea of being required to buy feedstock from the manufacturer of the machine.

Industrial additive manufacturing (AM) machines that process plastics are typically closed consumable systems. Users are required to purchase feedstock for their machines from the very same company that sold the machine. Manufacturers restrict or prevent the use of third-party materials with software and physical and electronic interlocks. Materials with high margins produce substantial revenue for these system manufacturers. They don’t want to see that revenue stream dry up as the result of open-market competition and natural selection.

metal

Thankfully, the metal AM segment is following the open consumable model, for the most part. This has attracted a growing number of companies that produce and sell metal powders. Among them are Additive Metal Alloys, AP&C, ATI, Carpenter, Erasteel, H.C. Starck, LPW, NanoSteel, Norsk Titanium, Praxair Surface Technologies, Sandvik, and VDM Alloys, to name a few.

Growth in the metal AM segment is outpacing growth in the rest of the AM industry, and the open consumable model may be a contributing factor. The open model creates competition, which forces prices down from artificially inflated levels. It also encourages innovation as a way to differentiate a product and gain market share. Suppliers are motivated to develop new materials and to discover more cost-effective and efficient production methods. Ultimately, it pushes material technology forward at a faster pace than the closed model.