A Future View: The AM Ecosystem in 2030


Aya Bentur  

3D Printed Brackets - Arcam EBM Spectra L at Formnext 2019 - Photo via GE Additive

Last month, 3D Printing Industry published a piece quoting 100 3D printing experts and their predictions for Additive Manufacturing (AM) ten years from now. We tried to find the underlying trends that came up and paint a picture of how the AM ecosystem will look like in 2030, here it is.

The Applications Cycle

One of the keywords that came up quite a lot in the predictions is applications. As we have seen in the last year, applications are a testament to the AM ability but they are also a driving force in the advancement of the ecosystem. In his prediction, Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant & President, Wohlers Associates, states: “Applications will play a central role in driving most growth in the industry. These applications will be supported by startups and organizations of all sizes”. There is a debate on whether applications will push material development forward or vice versa. Vyomesh Joshi, President & CEO, 3D Systems says: “throughout the coming decade, materials science will be a driving force in the growth of applications addressed by additive manufacturing”. He goes on presenting the cyclical nature of applications and development – “as the market matures, manufacturers will continue to push OEMs for new materials to address new applications never before thought possible.” While Alex Kingsbury, Managing Director, Additive Economics, Additive Manufacturing Industry Fellow, RMIT University anticipates: “those who hold the IP to applications will be the real winners in AM. Expect to see those with applications be prime candidates for investment, strategic partnerships, or acquisition. Applications will drive materials and process development, rather than the other way around”.

Ford parts produced on Carbon at Rapid + TCT 2019
Ford parts produced on Carbon at Rapid + TCT 2019

Predicting – UnPredicted Applications

Many addressed unlocking new applications, in various fields. Specifically mentioned were the oil and gas, energy, space, medical and electronics industries, but the point is that as the ecosystem and its potential grows, we will see AM produced applications that we cannot imagine today. As our own Tessa Blokland, co-founder at LEO Lane, predicted: “by the end of the decade there will be several applications that use AM as a manufacturing technology that cannot even be imagined today”. She goes on saying, “similar to how people could not conceive of Uber in 2008 (one year before it was founded) even though the major technological developments needed for it were already in place. Yet 10 years later, in 2018, peer-to-peer ride-sharing apps were a mainstay. In 10 years I predict there will be several such applications thanks to AM”.

HRE 3D Printed Wheel
HRE 3D Printed Wheel


Whether its applications driving new material or materials driving new applications, it’s clear that material diversity is something to expect in 2030. Many of the predictions included bigger material variety, industrial-grade materials, as well as specialty materials. Josef Průša, CEO & Founder, Prusa Research expects a“huge boom of new materials” and Aaron Bent, CEO, 6K predicts that “companies will demand the highest performance from their AM parts and material performance will play a significant role in this area,” he goes on saying “The number of materials available for AM will have to significantly increase to provide organizations with equal or even greater choices of materials than what’s available of the subtractive side of manufacturing”. Another aspect that came up is the intricacy of multi-material use as well as smart materials. Bart Van der Schueren, CTO, Materialise anticipates multi-material printing: “The promise of multi-material printing and the integration of electronics will enable the development of entirely new categories of products with high added value, including advanced and mass-customized wearables”. And Wojciech Gaweł, CTO & managing partner, Sonda SYS hopes that “in this decade we will see progress and evolution in the field of smart materials, especially dedicated to 3DP processes. I truly believe that merging smart materials and 3D printing will totally change the way we think about wide manufacturing industry and also the way we buy and use things”.

Sandvik Diamond Composite Material for 3D Printing
Sandvik diamond composite material for 3D printing

Being Responsible in 2030

When it comes to materials, the focus is performance but with it the awareness of the ecological effects of handling and using materials. Zero waste strategy, minimizing material waste, sustainability, and ecological justice are some of the keywords used in this context in the predictions. We know that AM can potentially be a viable sustainable production method compared to conventional manufacturing methods, last year Tessa Blockland listed a growing commitment to geo-economic and social values, as a trend to look forward to. This starts with the method itself (being additive vs subtractive) and continues to the materials used as well as sustainable business models such as on-demand and local production. Responsible manufacturing is both the sustainable and smart option for 2030. Tim Weber, Global Head of 3D Metals, HP predicts that “3D printing and digital manufacturing is driving a world with less waste, less inventory and less CO2 emissions with a potentially profound impact on the planet given nearly one-third of CO2 emissions stem from manufacturing. Engineers and designers will further rethink design throughout the product lifecycle to use less material and reduce waste by combining parts and using complex geometries to produce lightweight parts. This further reduces the weight of vehicles and aircraft to improve fuel efficiency which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption”.

The Supply Chain will Never Be the Same

We’ve said it more than once – on demand is in demand. But what will that look like in 2030? The supply chain is essential to AM becoming a mainstream manufacturing method. The supply chain will need to provide an end-to-end solution both globally and locally. Matt Gannon, VP of operations, Markforged says: “Take a good hard look at the standard supply chain today; it’ll never be quite the same again. Throughout this upcoming decade, we’ll see 3D printing revolutionize manufacturers’ processes and enable organizations to be lean and bring manufacturing to the point of use. For example, when an engineer designs a new part, they can go directly to production—rather than going to a supplier, getting a prototype and then waiting for tooling and production then shipping”.

EOS -Additively Manufactured Automotive Daimler Buses Spare Parts - Photo by Tobias Hase
Spare parts for Daimler Buses additively manufactured by EOS – Photo by Tobias Hase

Securing the Way

In order for digital inventory, mass customization, on-demand, and local production, to become standard practice, enabling a secured workflow is a must. It’s all about connectivity as Vishal Singh, Co-Founder & CTO, Link3D points out: “On-demand and just-in-time manufacturing can finally be achieved with real-time feedback loop by connecting people, process and technology”. But at the same time, Trent Allen, President, Tethon 3D, raises the topic of cybersecurity: “Due to advanced materials & proprietary applications designed over the next decade, we’ll see much more of a focus on cybersecurity”. In an ecosystem encompassing such varied expertise, sharing knowledge is crucial to attaining the best results but it also raises risks of exposing IP. Blake Courter, CTO, nTopology predicts that “IP Economies will form around digital assets containing this design and manufacturing intellectual property”. Here at LEO Lane we strongly believe in creating a secure workflow, going back to Tessa Blacklands prediction regarding applications, unimagined new AM applications “will not be necessarily based on a fantastic geometry but rather because of what industrial AM including a parallel lane of security and consistency enables”. Here’s to the future!

What are your predictions for 2030? For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates (up top 3D printed brackets – Arcam at Formnext 2019 – Photo via GE Additive).

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