But suppliers can't just think about innovations in materials; they also need to consider how those materials will fit with additive manufacturing processes, such as:
Fused filament fabrication
Laser metal deposition
Selective laser melting/sintering
Forward-thinking suppliers are looking beyond the materials, bringing innovative processing techniques to market as well. Norsk Titanium, for example, has developed a rapid plasma deposition technique that it uses to create large structural parts for Boeing aircraft at scale.
Big opportunities in three big markets
The opportunities are there for suppliers who know where to look, and the three biggest markets for additive manufacturing – the aerospace, automotive and healthcare industries – are the best places to start.
3D printing gives aerospace companies the ability to innovate with complex components that couldn't be produced using traditional techniques – and products can be created faster and cheaper. In an industry characterised by short production runs of parts, the on-demand capabilities of additive manufacturing make good commercial sense. And 3D printed components are a big part of the industry's lightweighting efforts to save fuel and reduce the environmental impact of air travel.
3D printing quickly found a home at automotive manufacturers, where it's still used for rapid prototyping. Today, additive manufacturing is used to create customised vehicles, produce on-demand spare parts, and reduce material wastage. But, much like the aerospace industry, it's vehicle lightweighting that really makes the most of 3D printing, helping manufacturers create lighter structures and reduce the number of components by optimising designs without having to worry about production complexity.
While dental applications are the biggest use of 3D printing in the healthcare industry, the technology is increasingly used by medical professionals to create customised prosthetics and medical implants. Surgeons now often rehearse procedures on precise 3D printed models built from scans of patients, helping increase the speed and quality of surgery. And soon, it's likely we'll see 3D printed pills that contain multiple drugs with different release times.