No one doubts the level of interest in the subject of 3 D print or additive manufacturing, just look at the amount of twitter interest in the subject. In fact , a Wide-format printer friend of mine, put an order in at Maplins for a basic 3 D printer last weekend and was advised that they have been absolutely overwhelmed by interest – expect Christmas for earliest delivery. However, it is interesting in terms of where the ‘buzz’ seems to be emanating from. In the US & the UK, certainly there is great excitement - mainstream TV and media networks are talking about it on a weekly basis, as if it is a manufacturing panacea, ever since President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address in February. Global market growth supposedly reached $2.2 billion last year – up 28.6 % according to Wohlers Associates , an additive manufacturing firm ( quoted on CNBC ). The main focus of the burgeoning industry seems to be creating prototypes, but obviously the growth potential will be in manufactured parts and finished products for consumers. The interest in the US is focused on printing with plastics, where bits of polymers are melded together. This enables the production of any small component and lends itself to a range of possibilities.
Neil Hopkinson , head of Mechanical Engineering Department at Sheffield University –researching Additive manufacturing , believe 3D print will become more than ‘just a fad’ when it becomes part of the production line and when the economic viability of inserting a machine into that production line delivers real value in a mass producing business environment.
On mainland Europe, the technology of ‘sintering’ seems to lead the way with companies such as EOS based in Munich . Sintering is the welding together of small particles of metal by applying heat below the melting point. In metal printing , metal powder is fused together to create objects.The leaders in metal 3 D printing are seen to have the edge in the aeronautics, automotive and medical markets. But 3 D in general is being picked up and is being tracked by many big companies in fashion, technology and consumer products.
Europe is certainly following the ‘buzz’ around 3 D printing with interest , I just don’t get the sense that we are so excited about it as our cousins ‘across the pond’. Germany, Italy and France surely represent the nations that you would expect to be experimenting and shaping the world of 3 D print technology. Germany particularly has a heritage in both print and manufacturing and we know through our own experience that the Germany is a great place to prototype and showcase print innovation . Let me know if you hear of exciting examples of 3D print technological development examples that we can shout about !
The Global market is growing – industry experts agree that Additive manufacturing has only reached 8% of its market potential and we can expect the Chinese to start taking notice – China has already committed $242 million to a seven year project. Let’s make sure the great manufacturing and technological innovators of Europe make some noise about their own activity in this exciting new business area.