Metal additive manufacturing is fulfilling its promise: it’s already being used for making aircraft parts, and the manufacturing industry in general is starting to invest lavishly in solutions.

Although still in its early stages, 3D printing using different metal powders and laser to heat up the different layers could offer a whole new range of possibilities for the aeronautical and aerospace industries, but also for medicine, (for orthopaedic implants) and jewellery, a leading-edge sector where the technology is concerned.

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Over the next ten years, according to predictions by Market Research*, metals will be the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales set to grow by 48% and material sales by 32%.

Aeronautical and aerospace: two key drivers for 3D printing

It’s little surprise that the aeronautical and aerospace industries have picked up on the benefits of 3D printing. A major manufacturing breakthrough in the aeronautical industry came earlier this year when French helicopter engine manufacturer Turbomeca announced it was introducing additive manufacturing to make engine components. Turbomeca is the world’s leading manufacturer of turbine turboshaft helicopter engines, with 2,500 clients worldwide including Eurocopter, Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky.

Another indication that metal 3D printing is set to take off in these industries is the substantial investments made by leading companies in new production facilities for 3D printers. One such company is GE Aviation, one of the leading aircraft engine suppliers, who plan to produce their fuel injectors using this technology by 2020. And then there’s the recent partnership between Dassault Systems and Safran: Dassault already has its own dedicated 3D platform, 3DExperience, featuring software for design and engineering, manufacturing, production and simulation. The group has now joined forces with the leading aircraft engine and aerospace component supplier to develop a solution to manage the whole additive manufacturing chain for producing aerospace engine parts. NASA, meanwhile, plans to make 80 to 100% of its rocket engines in the same way.

The automotive industry moves up a gear with 3D printing

Car manufacturers are the biggest users of 3D printing, with additive manufacturing in the industry set to grow 25% a year over the next five years. Mass production is increasingly widespread, with some manufacturers producing up to 100,000 prototype parts a year, according to a report by (SmarTech).

How 3D printing can reduce production costs and lead-times

Aeronautics, aerospace, automotive, construction: all the main industries could potentially benefit from the additive manufacturing revolution. As Benjamin Vayre, an expert at French 3D generative manufacturing specialist Poly-Shape, explains: "Additive manufacturing offers countless possibilities for all areas of industry. It means you can reduce the industrialisation phase, cut down on the amount of raw materials used, and can easily work with materials that are difficult to shape using traditional methods, such as Titanium alloys or Nickel superalloys. Plus, the ability to produce new, complex geometric shapes means you can reduce the mass and number of parts produced, which explains its enormous appeal and potential for the aeronautical and aerospace industries.”

Vertical markets and additive manufacturing: further reading on emedia

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