Skip to content

Q&A With Davide Sher on Automation of Additive Manufacturing

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

The follwing data points are sourced from the SmarTech report, “MARKETS FOR AUTOMATED 3D PRINTING: 2016 TO 2027:  AN OPPORTUNITY ANALYSIS AND TEN-YEAR FORECASTWhat is the role of 3D printers in tomorrow’s automation production lines? 3D Printers are expected to play a key role in the evolution of the digital factory, eventually providing means to further streamline and automate the manufacturing process. Why is automation becoming a key issue in AM today? Over the past two years, as 3D printing began to shift from a process used for prototyping and small batch technology to a large batch and mass customization production technology, all major industrial 3D printer OEM’s have begun to pay closer attention to integrating their systems both within 3D printer networks (or “farms”) and within automated production lines. How much is the overall landscape for industrial automation worth and how much of this will be related to 3D printing? The overall market for automated factories in the Industry 4.0 is expected to grow from $182 billion in 2016 to $352 billion in 2024. A very significant portion of this, roughly $45 million by 2024, will be represented by PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) software. SmarTech Publishing expects the market for automation in AM to represent a very significant revenue opportunity, growing to $11.2 billion by the end of the forecast period at an overall 35.98% CAGR from the 2017 level ($518 million). QA davide Sher Automation AM How much can 3D printed be further automated and how? There are three levels at which automation can be implemented in an AM factory or production plant within a complete workflow.

  • Process Automation
  • Part and Material Handling Automation
  • Workflow Automation
  Which are some of the key technologies and OEM’s visions for AMA (additive manufacturing automation)? Several large 3D printer manufacturers have announced and displayed their vision for automating production in an AM based factory. Among those closest to integrating AM into an automated workflow are the large machine tool manufacturers. One of the very first industrial 3D printer OEM’s to devise a vision for automating 3D printing factories is Germany based Concept Laser with its “Factory of the Future” concept. Concept Laser was acquired last year by GE and will continue to build on this concept as its systems are implemented for actual part production within the GE group. Polymer 3D printing market leader Stratasys is working on three different solutions which look toward further automation of FDM (thermoplastic extrusion), its end-use part production 3D printing technology. By comparison, its advanced polyjet technology is seen (and expected to remain for the foreseeable future) primarily a prototyping process. While photopolymerization has only been considered a production technology for a very limited number and highly specific type of products – such as hearing aids – recent advancements in both technologies and materials have contributed to the technology’s evolution into a full production process, thus increasing the need for automation. Carbon is leading the way with its high-speed CLIP technology infrastructure. OEM’s Concepts:   What is the overall outlook for automation of polymer AM hardware? Sales of automated and automation-ready polymer-based 3D printers are expected to increase significantly over the next ten-year period, driven by widespread adoption of high-speed “planar” technologies, which can achieve printing speeds 10X higher than standard systems. These technologies cover both powder bed fusion (PBF) and photopolymerization processes. The overall market opportunity for automated polymer AM hardware is expected to reach $3.172 billion by 2027 with 45.62% CAGR from 2017. The overall revenue opportunity for automated metal AM hardware is comparable, with yearly sales expected to top $3 billion by 2027, growing at 32.42% CAGR from the current 2017 levels. What are the other key elements in the AMA workflow? Since this report focuses primarily on mechanical automation of the AM process, robotic systems play a significant role, both in some of the processes (3D printers are robots as well) and – perhaps more importantly – in the intermediate part handling stages which connect the different stations within the entire production workflow. Automation of material handling is a must for the future of AM as mean of production. Workloads for operators are expected to increase significantly with part size capabilities, as the powder-filled modules can already weigh several hundred kilograms. The post processing phase currently represents one of the most significant bottlenecks in the automation process however it is also undergoing some of the most rapid evolutions in terms of automation, especially in the realm of polymer powder bed fusion based technologies. The automated AM factories of tomorrow are also likely to integrate advanced automated metrology, inspection and 3D vision solutions in the production flow. Due to the high average costs of these systems, they represent a significant revenue opportunity. What types robotic interactions will take place in tomorrow’s AMA factories? Companies will, in the future, be concentrating on the collaboration of human and machine, simplified applications, and light-weight robots. Added to this are the two-armed robots, mobile solutions and the integration of robots into existing environments. There will be an increased focus on modular robots and robotic systems, which can be marketed at extremely attractive prices. Robotic units are expected to connect multiple processing stations. These will be either based on multi-axes robotic arms (mainly for extrusion technologies) on rails or autonomous robotic carts (mainly for powder bed technologies). What is the outlook for metal AMA? The overall revenue opportunity for automation units in metal AM is expected to near $1.4 billion by the end of the forecast period, growing at 37.37% CAGR for the 10-year period. The overall market for automated stations and robots in polymer AM is expected to top $3.1 billion by the end of the forecast period, growing at 35% CAGR between 2017 and 2027. What will tomorrow’s AMA factories look like? The evolution of 3D printing factories within the scope of this report identified structures which are expected to hold a maximum of 20 to 30 systems. In the first half of the forecast period, the great majority of internal AM production departments and AM service bureaus, even those working toward automated batch production, are expected to have less than 10 systems and thus much smaller surfaces to cover for data transmission. What is the role of software going to be? In this report SmarTech Publishing is focusing on process and mechanical automation. This means that the software analyzed in this section is used either for running the AM process (and the other related processes that were examined in the previous parts of this report) or the production line. In the world of advanced manufacturing the term MES to describe software based Manufacturing Execution Systems is already fairly common. However, it is only now beginning to be introduced to AM, leading SmarTech Publishing to coin a new acronym: AMES. What types of software will drive AMA? Software is an integral part of AM automation, not only for managing the product’s lifecycle but also for establishing a digital factory environment while managing and controlling the actual process and production workflow. SmarTech Publishing’s forecast for automation software in AM covers four main segments.
  • Networking
  • Simulation
  • Process
  • Production
  What is the overall outlook for software in the AMA workflow? SmarTech is estimating the overall value of software for metal AM automation forecasting the overall segment to grow to $353 million in yearly revenues by 2027, growing at 25% CAGR from the current 2017 levels. The revenue opportunity for software in polymer AM automation is also expected to represent a very significant and highly profitable opportunity, totaling $172 million in yearly sales by the end of the forecast period, after growing at 29.5% CAGR between 2017 and 2027.]]>