Additive Manufacturing: From Early Adopters to Mainstream Applications

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

“As with the evolution of any complex technology, there is a point where it transitions from hope to confidence about its value in the market. We are at that point with additive manufacturing. That said, it is still immature in many respects. There will need to be continued significant investments in R&D to bring it to its full potential. I have been around AM for more than 15 years and never have I been more optimistic about the future,” said Dave Burns, former CEO of Gleason Manufacturing and ExOne Company. 

The aerospace and medical device markets were both early adopters of additive manufacturing (AM) going back no more than a decade for two key reasons: “Both industries require a high degree of customization, and both have relatively high margins, which helped in terms of risk-taking and growth,” said Bob Marshall, Senior Quality Manager, Becton Dickinson.

The aerospace industry saw early on that parts could be produced with lower weight, leading to cost savings in fuel usage. The industry bought machines, experimented, and companies developed their own processes around building parts. “Based on their own work, they would tell us what types of features they wanted to see in our printers, and we developed our machines to better support these needs,” said Scott Killian, Account Manager, Aerospace, EOS North America. 

The medical industry developed some of the most mature AM applications, patient-specific solutions in orthopedic implants, medical devices, dental applications, and surgical tools. Orthopedics initially used materials that were already established and understood in the subtractive world because of the way the regulatory pathways work: working with materials and products that are already approved in the market and that have established clinical history is easier. To date, the large medical device manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, Stryker, and Zimmer Biomet have made most of the devices and own the patents. 

But AM has now moved from polymer-based prototypes to production-quality metals in other industries. To learn more about the growing role of AM in manufacturing read our white paper here.