2020 Predictions: 3D Printing
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on January 06, 2020 |
Industry experts weigh in on the trends they see in additive manufacturing in 2020.

It’s difficult to predict the future of just about anything, especially if you lack a magic ball or access to the Stargate Project. But if anyone knows what the future of the additive manufacturing industry (AM) will look like in the next year, it might just be those companies at the cutting edge of 3D printing technology.

We reached out to a number of businesses at the forefront of AM to learn what they thought 3D printing will look like in 2020.

A rendering of ProM IS 500 3D printers on the factory floor. (Image courtesy of Anisoprint.)
A rendering of ProM IS 500 3D printers on the factory floor. (Image courtesy of Anisoprint.)

Fedor Antonov, CEO of Anisoprint, has spent over 10 years in the design and optimization of composite materials. Given his startup’s focus on continuous carbon fiber 3D printing, Antonov sees composites playing a crucial role in the future of AM.

“Composite materials will continue to trend 3D printing in 2020,” Antonov said. “There will be more applications and use cases where composite printed parts successfully replace metals. More and more big market players start looking in that direction. Definitely, we’ll have more new products announcements in this area next year.”

Anisoprint ended 2019 with a vision of the future in the ProM IS 500, the industrial production version of its composite fiber co-extrusion 3D printing technology. With a build volume of 600 mm x 420 mm x 300 mm and the ability to 3D print high-temperature polymers like polyether ether ketone and polyetherimide, the system is meant for producing large, fiber reinforced parts in a 24/7 factory environment.

Despite the fossil fuel basis for both carbon fiber and most plastics, Antonov also believes that our ecosystem will influence the decisions of AM pioneers in the year to come. “Another important trend will be in ecology,” Antonov said. “Today this essential issue which the whole planet is worried about is not enough addressed in additive manufacturing. I expect more green materials to occur, as well as ecological concerns in hardware, will be raised, such as energy consumption, emissions, waste, chemicals. Structural biodegradable materials, such as natural composites, will emerge. As experts in composites, we’re curious about it too and plan future developments in this field.”

The CEO’s prediction is a prescient one, given the fact that, since we last interviewed Javier Gomez Fernandez, of the Singapore University of Technology and Design, about his completely biodegradable bioplastic, he has founded a startup called CHITONOUS, dedicated to large-scale manufacturing with “biological materials, enabling circular and sustainable economic models while providing a manufacture advantage to its adopters.”

Meanwhile, 3D printing continuous to disrupt traditional manufacturing, with startups like AddiFab and Collider developing hybrid methods of manufacturing. CEO of AddiFab US, Carsten Jarfelt, naturally sees hybrid 3D printing as crucial in the coming year.

“3D printing is a platform of growth for many, but adoption is still hampered by limited scalability and selection of materials,” Jarfelt said. “Hybrid approaches, where 3D-printing and injection molding are combined, are increasingly seen as an efficient means to leapfrog these barriers. AddiFab predicts that 2020 will be a transformative year for hybrid, as leading companies and research institutes will increasingly realize the benefits resulting from this attractive combination.”

AddiFab’s approach in particular is interesting in that the firm’s technology 3D prints one-off molds for injection molding, combining the geometric complexity of AM with the vast material portfolio of injection molding.

At the same time that older production processes are being impacted by 3D printing, AM itself is evolving. One of the more exciting technologies to be unveiled to the public comes from MIT-spin out Inkbit, which has developed a multimaterial jetting system that features built-in vision processing and machine learning.

Inkbit CEO David Marini sees three trends taking place in 2020. “1. We will continue to see the industrialization of processes and systems. New form factors and system architectures will support the high-volume production use case. 2. More sensorization of systems to enable real-time process control -- thermal, dimensional and optical sensing to improve process tolerances. 3. New software to improve the efficiency of 3D printing operations (e.g. pre-processing workflows, job management, etc.) as well as new design and simulation tools for multi-material parts.” 

Blake Teipel, CEO of Essentium, believes 3D printing will be increasingly mainstream over the next year. “In 2020 we will see industrial-scale 3D printing move into the manufacturing mainstream in a big way. The promise of additive manufacturing (AM) has always been tremendous - but held back by unappealing economics, limitations in materials and production, and an inability to scale. The latest 3D/AM printing platform innovations including hardware, software and materials are coming together to help companies manufacture in new ways – while removing all the historical barriers. 2020 will mark the year that additive at scale transforms manufacturing across sectors including aerospace, automotive, electronics manufacturing services and biomedical.”

According to a study commissioned by the company, two-thirds of companies surveyed have already “more than doubled their use of industrial-scale AM over the past 12 months.” 

Teipel suggests that key to this growth will be the opening up of hardware systems. Up until recently, systems manufacturers have kept their 3D printing processes closed to users. The Essentium CEO believes that, “As the technology hurdles around economics, scale, strength and speed of production fall away, demand for AM will ramp quickly. This will be a moment for manufacturers to step back and re-assess their relationships with AM vendors. Most will simply not stand for vendor lock-in. Instead they will demand open ecosystems so they finally have their hands on the steering wheel of their own futures.”

The visions described here are obviously only partial and, in many ways, quite broad. And, as much as we might like to model what might occur in AM based on previous years and the larger world of manufacturing, there will always be factors not accounted for, such as social and economic forces that completely change the world as we see it, including the way we manufacture goods.

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