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Industry market forecast for 2023 #5 – Trends in metal 3D printers

February 7, 2023

AM gains momentum with new models and application proposals

One of the most notable trends in manufacturing technology is additive manufacturing (AM). A new “AM Area” was also established at JIMTOF2022, with 59 companies and organizations exhibiting in 173 booths. Many visitors gathered to watch demonstrations of metal 3D printers. According to some forecasts, the global market for metal 3D printers is expected to grow to about six times its current size by 2030. Japan has been more cautious than Europe and the U.S. in the AM field, but will the use of 3D printers finally begin in earnest in Japan?

Japan’s “prudence” on the move

The global market related to metal 3D printers is in an expanding stage. Global Information, which collects research data worldwide, published “3D Printing Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report” last April. The report estimates that the market size, including metal 3D printers, peripherals, related software, and materials, will be $4 billion in 2022. This is expected to grow approximately 5.6 times to $22.6 billion by 2030. Demand for metal part prototyping is expected to grow, and the design and development of high-volume products using AM is also expected to be in full swing.

Japan has been more cautious about AM than Europe and North America. However, this situation is changing. Not only have the specifications and ease of use of metal 3D printers evolved, but the development of related software and materials has also progressed, lowering the barriers to adoption over the past five years or so. Specific modeling applications have begun to emerge in areas such as tooling, medical, and aerospace.

First collaborations and new products

At JIMTOF2022, active business discussions were also held at the AM area. Nidec Machine Tool exhibited its “LAMDA 500,” a metal 3D printer that was released in August 2022. It uses the Directional Energy Deposition (DED) method, in which metal powder is sprayed onto the beam spot of a laser and layered, and is suitable for modeling large parts in aerospace and other fields. This was the first product developed jointly with Nidec OKK, one of the Group companies. It utilizes the basic structure of Nidec OKK’s simultaneous 5-axis machining center and incorporates a LAMDA forming head.

Mitsubishi Electric exhibited its “AZ600” metal 3D printer, which was launched in March 2022. It uses the same DED method, but uses welding wire as the material. It is expected to be used for primary processing in the “near-net-shape method,” in which a shape close to the final shape is formed, and secondary processing is performed, as well as for repairing defective parts of molds. The machine uses special NC control technology that synchronizes simultaneous 5-axis control, wire feed rate, laser power, etc., to optimize molding according to the condition and shape of the molded object. Since welding wire is used, material procurement and daily management are simple, and parts with few internal cavities can be produced.

Simplify materials management

Sodick also proposed a way to simplify material management. The “LPM325S” metal 3D printer uses the powder bed method, in which metal powder is spread on a bed and sintered by irradiation with a laser. In the past, this method required cleaning the machine’s modeling section and metal powder supply section each time the material was changed to prevent material contamination. Because of the time and labor required, a single machine was often used exclusively for one type of material. The LPM325S is equipped as standard with an “MRS”, a unit that automatically supplies and collects metal powder. The metal powder can be changed by simply replacing the MRS. One machine and multiple units can handle a wide variety of materials. It is suitable for prototyping and high-mix, low-volume production, which are currently the most common applications for AM.

Other examples on display at JIMTOF2022 included medical in-body implant parts, dental lab parts, and molds that attracted the attention of visitors.

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