Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a three-step process involving Computer Aided Design (CAD), creation of a digital computer file and then manufacture of a product from the computer file using 3D printing.
According to the latest Wohlers Report, the AM industry grew by 33.5% last year to $9.975 billion. The number of producers of larger AM systems – priced at over $5,000 – grew to 177, up from 135 in 2017 and 97 in 2016, with a clear shift away from desktop 3D printing systems to industrial system manufacturers.
But perhaps most significant amongst the report’s findings is that end-use applications have become the largest single use of AM technology, overtaking functional prototyping. In other words, the use of AM in mass manufacturing is growing, which is where it will start to have an impact on energy demand, both in terms of transport and industrial energy use.
Forecasts of exactly what impact AM might have on energy demand and how soon vary widely, not least between disciplines.
Market intelligence company IDC forecast in 2016 that worldwide spending on 3D printing would reach $26.7 billion in 2019. IDC’s forecast in January predicted spending this year of $13.8 billion, half of the forecast made just three years earlier.
In its publication ‘2015 commercial transportation trends’, consultants PwC forecast that up to 37% of global ocean container business was at risk from AM.