5 Trends in Additive Manufacturing to Watch for in 2018

Mark Dohnalek  |   November 29, 2017

Additive manufacturing is one of the most influential developments the manufacturing landscape has seen in decades.

So where is this technology heading? Here are some of the trends in additive manufacturing that I’ve been keeping an eye on.

The search for materials

As companies increase their additive manufacturing technology, there will also be a rise in the development of materials by different vendors within a company’s supply chain. The process will almost certainly require more flexible and durable material, and manufacturers will doubtless be finding new ways to use those materials.

For example, MIT has just created a method of printing inside a gel-like material that suspends the objects themselves without any support.

Increased affordability

Companies that provided metal materials will doubtless need to embrace more competitive pricing as additive manufacturing becomes more commonplace, driving costs down.

3-D printing isn’t always feasible for smaller companies or particular products, but as the practice moves to a larger scale, the companies providing material with have to address a higher level of accessibility and demand.

Companies with better additive manufacturing technology with be able to look into different material options more than ever before.

Application in a greater number of industries

More companies in more industries will be taking advantage of additive manufacturing than ever before, most likely aerospace and automotive companies. They’ll be using 3-D printing for tools, fixtures and various other parts and pieces involved in the manufacturing process.

Before this technology, there was a great deal more work in involved in these processes, typically through machining down a block of metal to create whatever they needed.

Needless to say, that sort of subtractive process was far more expensive, and thus was only used for items that had to be made in great volume. Now, with the less expensive model, production runs can be smaller and more cost-efficient.

New and better designs

Since one of the main benefits of the additive manufacturing process is the ease of rapid prototyping, a design can take on more iterations than previously, simply because there’s more time to explore the different design options available.

And because all of these iterations can easily be saved, it will be easier for designers to refine their ideas through trial and error, simply going back and taking bits and pieces of their final design from earlier versions of the idea. This allow for a better and more forward-thinking final design than was previously possible.

More customization, on a mass level

Through the digital, 3-D model, manufacturers will be able to further refine their designs, creating a more specialized market for customers looking for specific shapes, colors, sizes or materials in their products.

This is perhaps the furthest down the road of the various capabilities of the additive manufacturing process, but the technology will exist, and it will exist soon.

Simply put, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what 3-D printing and additive manufacturing can do, and there’s an exciting new frontier out there for manufacturers to explore. It’s going to be a fascinating, and game-changing, journey.