Additive manufacturing of end parts is happening – but to what extent? It’s hard to estimate the scope of AM adoption, many cases are not publicized, and many applications, such as inner parts, are “invisible”. Even though the applications and numbers we do know about are probably a drop in the bucket, these numbers are still impressive. Here is a compilation of some public numbers of additively manufactured parts and products.
Milestones – Big and Small
Just a few months ago, HP celebrated a significant milestone – over 10 million parts were additively manufactured on HP machines in a year. This impressive number includes various companies and uses, from partners such as BMW, Volkswagen, and Daimler Trucks. On a smaller scale, as part of the HP on HP initiative, over 140 inner parts of HP’s new Jet Fusion 300/500 Series are now additively manufactured. So while 10 million is a great headline, 140 parts in one machine is also a milestone worth celebrating (up top is a 3D printed part for the new HP Jet Fusion 5200 Series, part of the HP on HP initiative).
Driving and Flying AM
2 more companies in the “million club” are BMW and Michelin. BMW has recently passed the 1 million additively manufactured parts mark. The millionth component is the additively manufactured window guide rail for the BMW i8 Roadster which was printed on HP’s Multi Jet Fusion, making it also part of HP’s 10 million (above). BMW plans to continue and increase the integration of AM parts, the company states they intend to additively manufacture 200,000 components next year, an increase of 42% compared to last year. At Michelin over 1 million sipes are additively manufactured each year and inserted into the molds which produce the Michelin tires (below). The sipes are not only an end part in and of themselves, they also enabled a new product line.
In 2018 Boeing already had more than 60,000 3D-printed parts in the air, and Airbus A350 XWB aircraft has more than 1,000 additively manufactured parts including the 3D printed titanium brackets. Also in the air is the famous GE fuel nozzle which has reached 30,000 nozzles produced. Ricardo Acevedo, plant leader for GE Aviation at Auburn commented about the milestone: “This milestone isn’t just about reaching production of 30,000 fuel nozzle tips,” said Ricardo Acevedo, plant leader for GE Aviation Auburn. “The team should also be proud for their role in helping prove additive technology works in mass production for our business and others”. Automotive and aviation AM parts include critical parts like the GE fuel nozzle as well as non-critical parts such as parts used in the interior of planes. Therefore the numbers in this category vary from a million parts produced at BMW to 1,000 3D printed parts on an Airbus plane. Context is key to understanding that what might seem like a small number, is in fact meaningful.
On Your Feet and Hips
Medical implants are considered critical parts as well, which need to uphold strict standards. Also from GE, since 2007 it’s estimated that more than 100,000 hip cups were additively manufactured on Arcam machines and implanted in patients.
In the footwear section, there are numerous announcements of sneakers, insoles, and midsoles (above HP printer bed full of insoles – Hannover Messe 2019). One example is Superfeet which additively manufactures customized insoles (ME3D) using Fitstations which measure and scan your feet, gait, pressure, etc. I couldn’t find how many insoles the company additively manufactures but they do have Fitstations by HP spread across 26 locations in the US, and a specialized manufacturing plant, that can be an indication to the extent of their production.
Adidas stated it will produce 100,000 Futurecraft 4D sneakers (above) in 2018. While 2018 has passed and there are no new numbers announced for 2019, I did see the sneakers sold here in Israel, and if they reached the stores here I assume the production exceeds 100,000 this year.
Customer reach is an important factor, along with time of course. There are 2 fields were customized additive manufacturing has been employed for a while now – dental and hearing aids. Companies in these fields have reached notable numbers, especially taking into account that each part produced is unique and customized. Align is one of those companies. The Invisalign production process utilizes AM: the molds used to produce the aligners are 3D printed since each aligner requires a customized mold. This means that for each aligner sold a customized mold was additively manufactured (below). According to the company’s 1st quarter report for 2019, 545 million aligners in total were shipped to date, and 410,000 aligners are produced a day. Also in the dental category is SmileDirect using HP technology, which intends to produce more than 50,000 unique mouth molds a day, over a period of a year this can add up to 18 million molds.
If in the 2 dental examples above the use of AM is in-direct, in hearing aids the use is direct. Sonova additively manufactures over a million custom-fitted hearing aids yearly. Phonak owned by Sonova has been additively manufacturing the outer shell of hearing aids (below) for over 10 years now, reaching 10 million customers so far. Sonova is one of the first companies to fully take advantage of customized mass production using AM. Both hearing aids and dental aligners are ideal for AM as they incorporate mass markets on one hand, and a customized product on the other.
Obviously, there is much more that we don’t know of, this is just an indication of where additive manufacturing stands on an industrial scale. Do you have numbers you would like to share with us? Tell us about more number milestones in the comments below. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.