CAD solid modeling has been the source of data for most additive manufacturing (AM) parts. I estimate that at least 95% comes from CAD, but it could be closer to 98%. Increasingly, we are seeing more data from medical scanners, primarily CT, and 3D scanning/imaging systems for reverse engineering applications.
In the future, video games could become a major source. World of Warcraft players, for example, can have their character manufactured by FigurePrints, and about 1,000 per month are doing it. Other companies are working with Z Corp. to offer full color models from games, such as Rock Band 2 and Spore. Much smaller players, such as Karbon Kid and Maqet, have also entered the market. In the future, it might become a large and financially interesting segment.
To gain some perspective on how big it could become, one needs to compare annual CAD solid modeling shipments to video game shipments. The “Big Four” CAD companies (Autodesk, Dassault, PTC, and Siemens) shipped an estimated 116,000 solid modeling seats in 2009, according to data gathered by Randall Newton and published in Wohlers Report 2010. Meanwhile, game makers shipped 379,000,000 units the same year, according to the NPD Group. What’s more, 778 new game titles were launched in 2009, up from 764 the year before.
Not all of these games are candidates for AM products, but many are. And, as game creators discover the advanced capabilities of AM, more will develop games that create objects consisting of closed volumes—a requirement of AM. As this transition occurs, don’t be surprised to see games gain a strong foothold in additive manufacturing. In fact, it could influence AM system development, similar to how video games displaced CAD’s influence on the development of high-end graphics for personal computers. So, brace yourself for what video games could mean to the additive manufacturing industry.