Use of 3-D printing for the production of parts for final products continues to follow a decade-long growth trend. According to Wohlers Report 2013, final-part production rose to 28.3 percent of the $2.2 billion spent last year on 3-D printing products and services worldwide. In 2003, it represented only 3.9 percent of revenues, as shown in the accompanying chart.
The use of 3-D printing, a type of additive manufacturing, for final-part production is growing in several diverse market segments, including metal copings for dental crowns and bridges, orthopedic implants and jewelry, according to the report. The aerospace industry is also an important market. Boeing uses additive manufacturing to produce environmental control system ducting for directing the flow of air on military and commercial aircraft. GE Aviation announced that it will use additive-manufactured fuel nozzles on its next-generation LEAP engine, and the company plans to 3-D print about 40,000 nozzles annually for its aircraft engines in the coming years.
The production of parts for final products is expected to surpass prototyping applications for 3-D printed parts, according to Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates, Fort Collins, Colo. This is because the ratio of prototypes to production parts is often 1:1,000 or greater. "The money is in manufacturing, not prototyping," said Caffrey. "The opportunity for more commercial production activity from additive manufacturing is immense."
Caffrey is a principal author of Wohlers Report 2013, a report on additive manufacturing and 3-D printing. The annual report covers all aspects of 3-D printing, including its history, applications, processes, manufacturers and materials. It documents important developments, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia and industry, and summarizes the state of the industry in countries around the world. The 2013 edition marks the report's 18th consecutive year of publication.
The 3-D printing industry is expected to continue strong double-digit growth over the next several years. In 4 years, Wohlers Associates believes that the sale of 3-D printing products and services will approach $6 billion worldwide. By 2021, the industry is expected to reach $10.8 billion. It took the 3-D printing industry 20 years to reach $1 billion in size. In 5 additional years, the industry generated its second $1 billion. It is expected to double again, to $4 billion, in 2015, the report said.
Related Glossary Terms
Way of displaying real-world objects in a natural way by showing depth, height and width. This system uses the X, Y and Z axes.