The medical and aerospace sectors are expected to continue leading the adoption of metal additive manufacturing (AM) due to their high-value products and relatively low volumes.

The metal additive manufacturing (AM) industry has experienced significant growth in recent years due to an abundance of financial capital, advancements in technology, and expanded capabilities across the ecosystem. According to a report by Research And Markets, the global metal AM market size is expected to reach $11.1 billion by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.9% from 2021 to 2026. The North American market is projected to hold the largest market share during the forecast period further bolstered by government programs such as AM Forward.

The medical and aerospace industries are leading adopters of metal AM technology given the high value and relatively low volumes associated with their products. The global medical AM market size was valued at $1.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 20.5% from 2020 to 2025. Within this industry the technology is increasingly called upon to create customized and complex medical implants, such as spinal implants and hearing aids. For example, a growing number of major medical device manufacturers use laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) to produce spinal implants with a unique structure that mimics the mechanical behavior of natural bone. This results in improved patient outcomes and increased patient satisfaction while adhering to the requirements of regulatory bodies and adhering to the exacting requirements of quality systems carrying certifications such as ISO 13485. AM is also reducing production times and inventory levels across the value chain, leading to cost savings for healthcare providers. All of which continues to warrant investment into AM by leading medical companies.

Maximizing Throughput for Medical Manufacturers

The spine industry has been utilizing AM on a mass scale for years. This is thanks to the size and quantity of implants which can be situated onto a build plate coupled with the volume of implants needed by the market. A challenge for other medical implants is achieving the level of throughput needed when sizes are large, and shapes are varied. Throughput is such an integral part of manufacturing today. When space is limited and need is high, AM machines with larger build plates and multiple lasers provide the ability to meet industry demand. For example, the FormUp 350 is a 4-laser system with a 350mmX350mm build plate and a powder module to reduce powder handling time. These features provide high productivity, saving time and overall production costs resulting in an improved process to mass-manufacture highly complex and/or customized medical parts.

The global aerospace AM market was valued at $0.9 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $3.3 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 21.6% from 2020 to 2026, according to a report by Research And Markets. Within this industry, metal AM is enabling the production of lighter and more efficient components, resulting in increased fuel efficiency, and reduced operating costs. For instance, Boeing publicized that the production of titanium structural parts for the 787 Dreamliner using metal AM was estimated to save $2 million per plane in weight reduction and manufacturing costs.

In Process Monitoring ~ A Game Changer for the Aerospace Industry

Within the aerospace sector, qualification and regulation of components is mandatory. Quality assurance software will be a game changer within this industry because additive manufacturing requires such rigorous testing and inspections which are often expensive and lengthy, impacting lead time and productivity.  Companies, such as AddUp, are leading the way with process monitoring, providing confidence in the quality of parts with a full suite of quality assurance monitoring software to lessen, or even eliminate, the need for rigorous testing after a part is printed. As an example, AddUp’s software suite has 3 key elements. The first is a macro view of what is occurring inside the machine, visualized on an intuitive platform called AddUp Dashboards. Next is analyzing the execution of the production on a microscopic scale using Meltpool Monitoring to measuring dozens of parameters at a very high frequency. Lastly, Recoat Monitoring verifies and proactively corrects the powder bed during production, automatically. This type of software innovation will be instrumental in driving AM forward into industrialization, especially within highly regulated markets like aerospace.

We have many reasons to expect the metal AM industry to continue its growth trajectory in the coming years, with increasing demand from various sectors. For the right applications, the technology offers a multitude of advantages over traditional manufacturing methods, including faster production times, reduced waste, increased design flexibility, and ultimately product efficacy. While we might expect a slowdown in the near-term at the hands of tightening fiscal policy and the hang-over from financial market activities such as SPAC funding, the development of new materials and processes will drive the production of products with improved performance and the industry will continue its ascent to becoming a more widespread factory technology.

At AddUp, we remain bullish that the additive manufacturing industry remains a rapidly growing field with a promising future. The medical and aerospace sectors will remain leading adopters of advancing technologies and are driving demand for complex and customized components. Despite some near-term headwinds, the industry is poised for expansion in the coming years and is expected to play an increasingly important role in shaping the future of manufacturing. With its potential to revolutionize the way products are designed, manufactured, and delivered, additive manufacturing has the potential to drive significant economic benefits and create new and exciting opportunities for businesses, professionals, and consumers alike.

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