The Future of 3DP is Exciting and Industry Growth is Strong

Terry Wohlers, industry consultant and market prognosticator spoke about the future of 3D Printing during a keynote address at the America Makes Annual Membership Exchange.

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If you are a business leader, here is what you need to know.

  • AM industry growth is strong, especially in metals.
  • DfAM is key.
  • Systems and applications are developing.

54 years ago, Superman was thinking about 3D printing, long before anyone else was thinking about the technology.

Today, big companies such as Velo3D, Carpenter, Sandvik, Ford, Siemens, Henkel, Arkema, Rostec, and LPW, are making big investments in 3D Printing, and companies such as Form Labs, Carbon, and Desktop Metal are valued at more than $1 billion.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has reported 2028 patent applications have been submitted since 2012 by corporations.

So what ignited the AM wildfire?

Low-cost 3D printers took off in 2012 as well as high-end applications, and somewhere in the middle, consumers began to become confused about the difference between the two. The public was lead to believe you could produce high-end aerospace parts on $2K machines, and at the same time, the media was promoting 3D printed guns, and 3D printed toys.

Low-end 3D printers are great for prototyping, while industrial applications for 3D printed parts are typically printed on machines ranging from $100K to $1 million. As adoption of 3DP for industrial applications grows, printing in metals is also expected to grow.

Terry also corresponded with the establishment of America Makes in 2012 as a catalyst for accelerating the industrial adoption of 3DP.

The future of AM for Metals

AM metal sales have surged in the last 5 years. In 2017, Desktop Metal and various companies in China have sold several hundred printers. A survey conducted by Wohlers Associates reported 92 companies in 26 countries are now operating metal AM machines.

Terry reported the adoption rate is quite strong for the future and predicts the industry will grow to $20B in the next 6 years, but some challenges exist.

According to Jeannine Kunz, Vice President of Tooling, SME, “Technology is outpacing people.”

Terry also reported hardware is outpacing software.

Biggest opportunities for 3DP is DfAM.

Adoption of design for 3DP “DfAM” provides companies an opportunity to reduce material consumption, produce parts that weigh less, decrease production times, and consolidation of total parts it takes to manufacture a complete part.

Companies such as GE and Siemens have been utilizing DfAM to save time and money in their production processes. Companies that effectively learn how to design in 3D stand to benefit in more ways than one. (If you are a CEO interested in learning more about DfAM, contact Melinda McNutt, at

The future of 3DP applications

BioMedical: The FDA has reported 100 devices have been cleared to date. There are 99 total hospitals in the U.S. with centralized 3D printing operations as of 2016.[3] The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) is working to establish coding and reimbursement for anatomic models. 3D printed body parts are expected to grow in the future.

Automotive: Various companies are using 3DP including, Daimler, Honda, Audi, Renault Trucks, BMW, Mini Cooper, for low volume part production or customized parts.

Embedded electronics and sensors: Finding applications for 3DP electronics and sensors continues to be a struggle. There is no real application for a 3D printed circuit board at this time.

Nature and BioMimicry: Festo, a German company, debuted a 3D printed bird titled SmartBird.

Color: Color will be big in the future. 3D Systems and Stratasys are currently doing it best.

Houses: Terry’s response to the future of 3D printed houses: “they are a solution looking for a problem.” The Marine Corps built a home made out of wood in 5 days using 10 total marines. A robot arm was able to 3D print a home made of concrete in 40 hours. While a concrete home may not be a long-term living solution, architects may be able to utilize 3DP for specific applications, such as decorative features, but the future of 3D printed houses is uncertain.

Hybrid Systems: A low technology readiness level (TRL) has been reported at this time.

Other: Applications that are expected to grow in the future are personalized gifts, eyewear, and footwear such as custom-made shoe inserts. 3DP fashion could be big in the future, as well as food, candy, and chocolate.

Closing Remarks

23 industry standards have been developed to date, and everyone is encouraged to get a copy of the “Standard Technology for Additive Manufacturing – General Principles – Terminology 1,2.”

20 standards are currently in development, and ASTM committee F42 on additive manufacturing has 637 members in 30 countries.

In closing, the future of AM is exciting. AM industry growth is strong, especially in metals. Applications are developing in several industries. DfAM is key for improving part production and may lead to substantial cost savings.

If you would like a copy of Terry Wohlers annual report, Gold and Silver members of America Makes can receive a copy of the Wohlers report each summer.



[1] U.S. Food and Drug Administration – Oct 2018

[2] Materialise, RAPID TcT Magainze, 2017

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