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Meaghan Ferris Meaghan Ferris
Global Head of 3D Metals Go-to-Market and Business Development

The Future of Metal AM in the Industrial Sector

April 13, 2023

…is bright indeed, with the unique capabilities of additive manufacturing dovetailing with trends toward mass customization and protection of supply chains.

The use and recognition of 3D printing has increased rapidly in recent years as businesses across the industrial, consumer, medical and automotive sectors have begun realizing that this is a viable alternative to more costly, traditional forms of manufacturing. The additive manufacturing (AM) industry currently is growing at a rapid rate, around 22 percent annually, proving that this technology will become more mainstream and widely used in coming years. Couple this with the fact that traditional manufacturing expertise and experience is complementary to AM, meaning an increased demand for talent in this space.

HP-S-100-metal-3D-printing-printers-serial-productionWith proven positive impacts such as the shoring up of supply chains, enabling of sustainable mass production and enabling of both short and long-term distributed-manufacturing solutions capable of near-instant responses to rapid market changes, 3D printing has proven itself as a model of the future industrial sector.

Moving Into Commercial Production

Looking back on the progression of 3D printing, the mid-2000s saw an emergence of the technology for plastics move into metals, and electronic manufacturing services began to replace the need for manual labor as machinery could perform these same tasks just as efficiently. The latest Gartner Hype Cycle predictions show that the technology is reaching its Plateau of Productivity, indicating the start of widespread adoption and implementation. The 3D industry already is disrupting traditional supply chains and driving Industry 4.0, and this trajectory looks set to continue. The manufacturing sector in particular, worth $12 trillion, presents huge potential for increased adoption of 3D printing methods in coming years.

Schneider-Electric-Power-Component-3D-metal-printing-HPIt is clear, therefore, that in recent years, 3D printing has advanced beyond the prototyping of plastics, paving the way for the introduction and implementation of 3D printing in the metals space, too, something which would have been unimaginable years ago. The move to production has opened up this technology for customers to use on a commercial scale, and in global operations, allowing for 3D printing to become a viable option for a range of exciting applications.

The rapid speed to market and ability to produce high volumes of products reduces the barrier of entry to serial production that comes with 3D metal printing. For example, consider HP's partnership with Schneider Electric, a digital automation and energy-management company. Schneider Electric’s portfolio includes low-voltage switchboards, dedicated to large-scale industrial projects that require electrical projection and energy availability. These projects need large volumes of energy to achieve safe and efficient operations during short-circuit cuts—often a difficult task given constraints associated with remote or onboarded environments. 

With material and sintering via GKN—a long-time AM collaborator with HP—a new component for 690-V power filters was created using HP’s Metal Jet technology. Creation of this component previously proved impossible using traditional manufacturing methods due to its shape and the complexity of its required parts. Advancements in HP Metal Jet technology made 3D metal printing a viable option for this and other production-level uses. This application allowed for the design of new power filters that reduce gas pressure and heat impact, but also resulted in a significant productivity and economic benefit, proving the power of 3D technology in this industry.

Market Trends Driving AM Adoption

In the wake of global insecurities and increased instability as a result of an impending economic recession and ongoing supply-chain issues, traditional manufacturing methods no longer are as reliable as they once were. Due to these factors, companies have had to explore alternative manufacturing methods and processes to safeguard against disruption.

The shortage of manual labor, inventory challenges and logistics that can hinder production and assembly processes have put supply chains at risk. Thus come predictions that by 2030, 2.1 million U.S. jobs will remain unfilled without the introduction of a ground-breaking solution. Metal AM can help to alleviate some of these issues as implementation of this technology and digital solutions within the supply chain are revolutionary—they don’t rely on manual labor. This technology also has the ability to repeat tasks and improve not only product quality, but also efficiency of production. 

As metal AM continues to advance, and as product strategies and offerings improve, the focus of this technology likely will shift to the need to provide customers with fully capable solutions that enable mass personalization and customization for all kinds of applications. Personalization on a mass scale proves difficult with traditional manufacturing methods given the difficulty in predicting demand and planning ahead for any surges or interruptions in supply. The flexibility provided by 3D printing alleviates these issues, and the ability to produce on a mass scale allows customization to be achieved at a rapid rate on a commercial scale. What's more, with increased demand for high-quality, personalized products, remaining ahead of the game in customization offers an exciting way to attract and retain customers.

John-Deere-valve-HP-3D-metal-printingSustainability offers another huge deciding factor, namely in that 3D-printed metal parts are more lightweight and energy-efficient than their traditionally manufactured counterparts. These parts allow for lower fuel consumption during the manufacturing process and offer higher efficiency when used in conjunction with heat, liquid, gas or electricity applications. This enables improved cooling for data centers, for example, or allows seamless integration into the production of electric vehicles of all types as well as heat exchangers.

Another clear benefit of introducing production of 3D metal parts: They are built to withstand extreme temperatures and erosion, making them viable and economically beneficial options for the industrial and agricultural industries, where these parts likely face exposure to a variety of extreme elements. For example, HP customer John Deere now manufactures Metal Jet-printed valves in agricultural machinery due to these benefits, using this metal-AM technology to optimize production processes and to prototype, test and fine -tune components, including windshield holders. Regarding the holders, since AM implementation, John Deere has been able to reduce pre-assembly time from 30 to 10 days and reduce delivery times by as much as 10 weeks. The result: reduction of overall production costs by 20-25 percent.

The Road Ahead

In the next few years, we expect an increase in applications made with 3D-printed metal alloys for commercial use, with more businesses turning to this technology to safeguard their operations from external circumstances, while also providing customers with more sustainably produced products and the ability to personalize on demand. The industry has proven itself to be resilient, and as the technology advances and increased applications become possible, 3D-printed metal alloys will become the new normal for manufacturing of goods and products. MF 
Industry-Related Terms: Alloys, Model, Prototype, Scale
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: HP Inc., GKN Sinter Metals Engineering GmbH

Technologies: Additive Manufacturing


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