By Dr Bryony Core, Technology Analyst, IDTechEx
After initial commercialisation in the 1990s, 3D printing underwent a period of intense interest in 2013. Key players were quick to capitalise on this interest, with exponential revenue growth between 2013 and 2016. Since then, the hype has subsided and additive manufacturing is starting to find its place among other manufacturing methods. In particular, focus has now shifted away from the consumer and rapid prototyping, and toward digitalisation of workflows.
Several industries are now seriously considering the benefits and competitive edge that 3D printing can lend their operations, with technological innovations catering to their needs. Although all signs point to a period of readjustment in the 3D printing market, there remains enormous potential for growth over the next decade; IDTechEx forecasts that the global market for 3D printing equipment, materials, software and services will be worth $31bn by 2029.
Technology and applications
In 2018, the 3D printing market comprised multiple different printer technologies, compatible with polymer, metal and ceramic materials, including vat photopolymerisation (SLA/DLP/CLIP), powder bed fusion (SLS/DMLS/EBM), material extrusion and jetting, binder jetting, directed energy deposition and sheet lamination. Metal 3D printing is one of the fastest growing segments of the entire 3D printing industry, and several new products have recently been commercialised.
The sheer volume of new 3D printing announcements, including from startups like Desktop Metal and Markforged, shows the technology evolving fast. Year 2018 set the bar, but 2019 did not disappoint, with a number of new commercialised printer processes launched, indicating that 3D printing continues to gain momentum.
The pressure on manufacturers to develop printers capable of high-volume output, with finer resolution and larger build volumes is growing, with a growing number of varied applications.
Of course, the relationship between 3D printer hardware and the materials used has been very tight-knit, and an understanding of the range of materials available is key to fully leveraging this technology to its full potential.
3D printing comprises a range of technologies based on different physical mechanisms that create a three-dimensional object. The process is additive, with materials being deposited only where needed, resulting in less material waste and enabling much faster production of low quantity structures.
Developed in the 80s, it is now experiencing large demand thanks to lower-priced printers, and new technologies and material sets. Today, start-up companies are being sold within years for breath-taking multiples.
Having successfully implemented Stratasys’s 3D printing to produce parts for the German and UK rail industries, Siemens Mobility Services has continued its investment in Stratasys technology to support the expansion of its rail maintenance operations in Russia. This includes two new industrial-grade Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printers for part production.
The decision comes in line with a recent business win for Siemens Mobility to build 13 additional high-speed Velaro trains for Russian train company, RZD, including an agreement to maintain and service the trains for the next 30 years.
With Siemens Mobility’s rail domain knowledge and Stratasys’s printers, the team can rapidly and cost-effectively 3D print rail replacement parts on-demand. The investment marks the start of Siemens Mobility’s ‘Easy Sparovation Part’ network in Russia, which aims to optimise services using 3D printing and a digital inventory of original train parts, facilitating the in-house replacement and production of spare vehicle components.
Dedicated to servicing the existing 16 and additional 13 planned trains for the next 30 years, Siemens Mobility Russia is working with more than 99% fleet availability record.
“These availability figures would be physically impossible to achieve through external part sourcing and traditional manufacturing techniques alone, but Stratasys’s FDM 3D printers give us the capability to cost-effectively produce the parts in-house, partially eliminating the need for warehousing or tools for a selected range of items,” said Alexey Fedoseev, Head of Customer Services, Siemens Mobility Russia. “3D printing makes for a perfect add-on to aid our production and provides us with the flexibility to replace and create parts ourselves, anytime they are needed. We have already seen the success of the Siemens Mobility ‘Easy Sparovation Part’ business in Germany, where this technology has provided us time-per-part savings of up to 95% compared to traditional manufacturing methods.”
By storing all parts data online, Siemens Mobility can access and replace older or newer train parts ad-hoc to meet stringent time limits.
“Thanks to the efficiency-driving capabilities of 3D printing, it’s no surprise that rail maintenance and service providers are continuing to adopt the technology to boost customer service, maintenance, and part-manufacturing. Siemens Mobility is certainly a pioneer in this regard, driving the uptake of this technology within the rail and mobility sector. We continue to collaborate closely to ensure our solution best addresses the specific needs of this sector and explore entirely new application uses for 3D printing within transportation,” said Bjoern Richter, Strategic Account Manager Siemens, Stratasys.