additive manufacturing, 3d printing, industrial 3d printing, sweden, finland, nordics

Additive Manufacturing overview for 2021

by Maxime Legrand, Innovation Manager at AMEXCI

2021 has again been a busy year in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) world, both on the financial and technical aspects. Let’s try to summarize what happened during last year!

Market: continued growth, acquisitions, and large fundraisings

As in the previous years, the market has seen a lot of movements with multiple acquisitions and fundraisings. Let’s start with several signs of market consolidation. One of the most active companies this year has been the American company Desktop Metal. Founded in 2015, they acquired 8 companies this year, two of them (ExOne and Envisiontec) being historical AM actors for more than 20 years. Several other of these acquisitions concern companies or start-ups: Aerosint with their multiple powder deposition system, Aidro – well-kown AM user specialized in valves and hydraulics components –  Meta Additives (hybrid technology between binder jetting and material jetting), Beacon Bio (biofabrication), Adaptative 3D (polymer materials)[1]. Some of these are directly linked to Desktop Metal activities, while others are there to diversify their portfolio.

Stratasys continued their buying strategy, after having bought Origin end of last year, they acquired RPS, also in the SLA segment and Xaar 3D, the company which initially developed their SAF technology with the Professor Neil Hopkinson.

On the service provider segment, the Swedish company Prototal continues its expansion in Europe. After buying 3T polymers (UK), Tojo Plast (Sweden), Damvig (Denmark) in 2020, they bought Prosilas (Italy) and 1zu1 (Austria). We can also mention Protolabs buying 3D Hubs in the US for USD 280 million.

We also saw many fundraising movements beating records: Oqton which raised 40million USD before announcing their buyout by 3D Systems), Fortify (composites SLA) and Fabric8labs (microprinting) both raising 20million USD. These amounts are interesting but still rather small when you compare  to Relativity Space which raised $650million this year!

Another figure that is interesting to mention is from the company Formlabs, which started in 2011 in a Cambridge basement, and is now a 2 billion USD company.

Let’s now take a step back and try to see the latest market trends, as detailed in the latest version of the Cecimo report. Even though aerospace and automotive took a serious blow in 2020 and during the first semester of 2021, they are now starting to recover and even expect a serious growth in 2022. The medical remains one of the leading markets with the highest growth trend.

Looking on the material side, metals and polymers, the two established materials families, have the highest growth trend for this year, while the composites and ceramics seem to get to a more stable future. Nonetheless, let’s see how 2022 will continue, as the machines to print these materials are getting more and more mature.

additive manufacturing market, 3d printing, sweden, finland
additive manufacturing, materials, 3d printing

Polymers: towards higher performances and large-scale production

Starting with FFF, the trend for high performance polymers continues, with more machines and more companies providing capabilities to print PEEK and Ultem. On that segment, Roboze presented in July their large format printer Argo 1000. Essentium also presented their first IDEX (InDependant EXtrusion head) head on the HSE280i HT: the two heads can work fully separately  and are not positioned on the same axis, improving the printer productivity and making it possible to work in different modes. In a recent interview, they also claim that they will try to bring their Flashfuse technology[2] with the next machines, this project being on hold until recently. Biopolymers are also on the rise, with for example NonOilen which now provides a filament made from PLA and PHB.

Figure 1. HSE 280i HT by Essentium with the independent heads

In the composites segment, Anisoprint announced at Formnext their first industrial printer with a large build volume, the PROM IS 500. Markforged, on their side, launched a high temperature machine, the FX20, capable to print composites but also Ultem and PEEK. We can also mention the  company Impossible Objects partnering with Ricoh in Europe for their CBAM technology, based on long fibers arranged in sheets.

Figure 2. Anisoprint and their PROM IS 500
Sinterit NILS480m using infrared lasers

Regarding SLS, a milestone was reached with Materialise being certified by Airbus with their EOS machine, 5 years after achieving the same results with their FDM machines. Erpro factory, after 4 years of serial production, has just reached 20 millions parts printed, a large proportion being their mascara brush with Chanel. We can also notice the growing popularity of desktop SLS printers, thanks to the lower initial investment and an increasing material base compatible with their infrared lasers. Based on this lower cost technology, Formlabs has just released their Fuse1 and Sinterit has launched a production printer, the NILS480. Numerous materials have also been made available this year, for instance the Bluecare or the “detect” PA12 from Fabulous, aimed to detect easily if small particles were left in agroindustry flows.

Concerning high performance polymers, PBT has been released both by Covestro and AM Polymers companies. The number of third-party powder providers and their material portfolio is slowly increasing, which may lead to a cost reduction for the materials in the near future.

For the MJF technology, HP is facing more competition with the arrival of Stratasys on this segment with their SAF printer, developed with Xaar, but also Voxeljet with their HSS printer currently in beta phase. Voxeljet took a different approach and proposes an open material platform and announced a partnership with Covestro for material development. They also aim at a larger build volume of 1,000 x 540 x 400 mm.

Concerning photopolymerization, one interesting innovation comes from Axtra 3D  is combining DLP and SLA to get the best of these two polymer technologies in one printer. Still in the photopolymerization segment, the company Azul 3D launched their Lake printer with the HARP (High Area Rapid Printing) technology, focusing on extremely high productivity for selected industrial polymers.

Axtra 3D combining SLA & DLP

Closing this polymer review, let’s finish with the company Evolve Additives. They made a first announcement in 2017 with their alpha prelaunch, and stayed under the radar until this year when announcing  the shipping of their first commercial printer in Europe for beta testing. Evolve Additives proposes a novel approach to polymer printing, and they claim to offer the most productive 3D printer on the market.

Metals: A rather calm year but with a few interesting innovations

Compared to last year, few announcements were made, and it was more a question of consolidation and improvement of the different systems.

The machines tailored for R&D in three technologies are becoming more and more common: in addition to the well-known Aconity printers for LPBF, Freemelt and Insstek are growing their customers group with EBM and DED systems.

Talking about material, copper is now becoming available on most of the metal technologies from LPBF (Trumpf, EOS, GE, AddUp), EBM (Arcam/GE), MBJ (ExOne, Digital Metal), FDM (Markforged), SLA (Admatec, Holo) and DED (Optomec, Spee3D).

Headmade cold SLS

Another key trend is the use of polymer processes to produce metal parts indirectly [3]. In FFF, some large and smaller companies proposes metal filaments/extruders or machines like Raise3D, BASF, Nanoe, Markforged. For SLA, we can mention the company Holo which released this year their Pureform platform, but also Admatec  has made available metals on their ceramic printer. A rather new player is the company Headmade, using SLS to produce the green part, which then opens new possibilities.

Another interesting company is Mantle, who launched their precision metal AM technology for the tool market in February. Their technology is based on a metal paste that is machined just after deposition. Thanks to that, they can produce molds faster, cheaper with higher accuracy. They successfully raised $25 million, and their first customers already produced more than a million parts with tools made with Mantle’s technology.

Seurat also joined the race for area printing technology using multiple lasers, similar to what EOS announced with their laser Profusion a few years ago as the next stage of SLS printing.

Talking about large figures, several milestones have been achieved and confirmed the maturity of metal printing processes. For example, GE reached it 100 000th fuel nozzle delivered, and Metal printing adoption keeps on increasing as EOS just sold its 1000th machine on the US market.

Ceramics

From our visit at Formnext, as shown by the various applications on display, ceramics is finally entering its mature age, but their adoption level remains limited.

Worth mentioning, several players are now advocating multimaterial printing, such as Lithoz and 3DCeram proposing two different approaches to deliver it. The main challenge for both of them being the sintering temperature: the two materials need to have similar temperature.

Parts produced by Lithoz

Another highlight of last year concerns Prodways, which announced the discontinuation of their ceramic printers. They prefer to focus on SLS and their Dental series for DLP technology.

Software: Automating steps, one at a time

On the software side, the trend is towards more automation of the whole process, from design to inspection. For example, Carbon 3D released their lattice design software, Zeiss proposes a software to ease printing parameters development. The start-up Exponential Technologies, voted Start Up of the Year 2021 on 3DNatives news website, is also focusing on the same challenge. Some companies, such as Amsis, SLM or EOS, are working on support-free parts and GE now proposes a platform called AMP  to support the users form the 3D file creation to the inspection. Materialise is also following this trend, and just acquired the company Link3D.

AMSIS

Sigma labs, known for providing an in-process monitoring tool for metal powder fusion, has also released a solution for polymer printers.

Post processing: the bottleneck is still there but there are new initiatives

Post processing was, and still is, the bottleneck for most of the AM technologies, but more and more solutions are being proposed, for instance for depowdering or parts finishing.

Spengler DCK01 machine

Some companies propose an end-to-end solution, such as the company Spengler with their machine which can depowder, filter the powder and tumble the parts in SLS.  In addition, they also propose a microfluidic surface finishing possibility. The company AM Solution presented this year 3 new finishing machines for polymers, and AMT proposes a new machine for vapor smoothing polymer parts. PostProcess Technologies also released their new DEMI 910 specifically for Carbon 3D printers.

3D printer suppliers also now proposed their own solutions, such as Xjet with their automatic support removal station, or Digital Metal with their automatic depowdering unit.

There is still a long way to go as highlighted in PostProcess 2021 survey, the top 3 pain points remaining the same as the previous years: time required to finish components, consistency of finished parts and throughput limitations.

Sustainability: a key trend in AM?

For a long time, AM has been seen as a sustainable alternative, using only the material needed to produce the part. This general idea should be reinforced by facts, and several companies are working on it. Some initiatives, like the AMGTA, have been launched to try to answer this question and position AM as a truly sustainable technology. Several companies are leading extensive Life Cycle Analyses on various products and published valuable reports. We can also mention AMPower, working on a tool aiming to compare metal AM with conventional technologies to conclude on their CO2 footprint.

Materialise also launched their Bluesint PA12, in order to optimise the use of SLS powders – a critical drawback for most of the polymers with this technology.

Another way to look at this “scrap” powder is to put it to other use – and use it as a raw material. For example, Ford and HP announced a collaboration to use recycled 3D printing powders and parts to produce injection-molded automotive components.

Roboze also initiated a circular economy program for 3D printed parts which is beginning in January 2022. The customers can return waste material and 3D printed parts, to get a voucher for their next material purchase. Still focusing on circular economy, 6k Additives is now recycling chips from machining into powder for metal AM.

We can also mention Desktop metal with their wood printer using wood waste to produce parts with a biodegradable binder.

Another interesting approach for sustainability in prototyping is Honda using their Wasp printer to print with clay for their prototypes. Besides being reusable numerous times, it also allows the designer to rework the part and 3D scan it.

We can also mention that several companies appointed dedicated sustainability roles within their organization (EOS, DyeMansion, Stratasys, among others), another sign of how important sustainability is for the AM industry.


This article showed some trends in the different areas of Additive Manufacturing. We expect those trends to continue to push AM forward in the coming years, especially on the sustainability topic.


[1] https://www.fool.com/investing/2021/10/06/acquisition-spree-cant-mask-desktop-metals-fiscal/

[2] Flashfuse technology uses plasma to remelt the last printed layers together in order to have more homogenous properties in Z axis.

[3] A green part is printed. Afterwards, a debinding-sintering step is required to have to have fully dense part.


About Maxime Legrand

Maxime works as Innovation Manager at Amexci and has 7 years of experience in Additive Manufacturing, mainly focusing on polymer technologies for multiple industries.

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