An Excerpt from Wohlers Report 2017
Terry Wohlers posted on July 17, 2017 | 2387 views

Earlier this year, ENGINEERING.com had the opportunity to review Wohlers Report 2017. To provide further insight into the report, here we’ve published an excerpt from the report. 

The AM industry grew by 17.4% in worldwide revenues in 2016, down from 25.9% the year before. Much of the downturn came from declines by the two largest system manufacturers in the business. Together, they represent $1.31 billion (21.7%) of the $6.063 billion AM industry. If these two companies were excluded from the analysis, the industry would have grown by 24.9%.

Fifty-one percent of the service providers surveyed by Wohlers Associates provide parts in polymer materials only, while 19.8% provide metal parts only. The remaining 29.2% offer both metal and polymer part-building services, as shown in the following chart. This is the first year to report these statistics, so it will be interesting to see how they change in the future as metal AM increases in popularity.

Source: Wohlers Report 2017
Source: Wohlers Report 2017

Additive manufacturing is making significant progress toward becoming a mainstream option for series production. It is free of needing tools (e.g., molds and dies) and is capable of producing very complex shapes and geometric features. The production of final parts using AM facilitates small batch sizes, custom parts, lightweight structures, complex internal features, and the consolidation of many parts into one.

As AM competitiveness improves, it will continue to penetrate an increasing number of markets. It is too early to know if AM will lead to a new industrial revolution, but some indicators suggest that it might. One of the key signs is the removal of many barriers to entering the product development and manufacturing business. AM offers a reduction of transaction costs and the possibility of decentralization of some types of production. Another sign is an increase in custom product development.

Research in AM has increased dramatically over the past few years, largely due to more public and government interest in the field. This has resulted in increased research activity at “veteran” institutions and in a larger number of research institutions entering the field. Many more institutions have added AM capabilities over the past year, and more research is being conducted at national laboratories and other government-sponsored facilities around the world.

Investment is an important element in building the AM ecosystem. Large global companies are now investing significant amounts in AM. Alcoa announced that it would spend $60 million to expand an R&D center to include the development of AM methods and materials. Major OEMs have made big commitments to AM production processes. In 2016, for example, Stryker announced that it would spend nearly $400 million to build a facility for the production of titanium orthopedic implants by AM. 

Future growth will come on several fronts. Applications in existing markets will increase incrementally and steadily. Production applications will expand, first in the aerospace, medical, dental, and motor sports industries, as well as in some niche consumer sectors, such as jewelry. The next big prospect will be the automobile sector, followed by industrial vertical markets. Entirely new opportunities will arise in many traditionally “non-industrial” markets. Examples are fashion, textiles, eyewear, footwear, and food products.

For more information on Wohlers Report 2017, visit the Wohlers Associates website.

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