Metal Additive Manufacturing: Demonstrating the Disruptive Potential of IDTechEx

IDTechEx | May 04, 2022

Since 3D Systems popularized stereolithography thirty years ago, manufacturers of 3D printers that developed their unique technology have followed the same business model: selling their printers to customers. Established and emerging 3D printing companies in metal and polymer additive manufacturing followed a similar path until recently. However, businesses with proprietary technology are beginning to see an alternative. Rather than informing customers about the disruptive potential of their machines, be the disruptor.

Decades of an industry operating under the same business model have exposed the inherent issues of selling printers to end customers, particularly metal printers. To begin, consumers must budget for a printer that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and consumable printing ingredients that cost hundreds of dollars per kilogram. Then, customers must train personnel on how to run the printers and prepare and finish any 3D-printed parts; if the customer lacks the necessary internal resources, trained labor must be hired. Finally, to maximize the value of any 3D printer, consumers must understand how to identify applications where 3D printing provides the greatest value and how to design for these opportunities. In aggregate, these problems contribute to the difficulty of convincing clients to invest in 3D printing, mainly metal additive manufacturing. That is not to say the metal printer install base is stagnant, but instead that this increasingly popular business model fits into a growing industry that IDTechEx forecasts will reach $18.5 billion in revenue by 2032 in their latest report, "Metal Additive Manufacturing 2022-2032: Technology and Market Outlook."

A New Strategy – In-House Production
Newcomers have noticed the impediments provided by the old business model of supplying metal printers to customers for printing parts. So rather than selling printers based on their patented technology, as standard 3D printer manufacturers do, they have opted for a novel business model in which they retain control of their proprietary printing technique.

The 3D printer is not the primary product supplied here; instead, it is the finished 3D-printed parts. This overcomes a number of the traditional barriers to 3D printing adoption, such as high capital costs and the requirement of specialist AM skills. Instead of convincing customers that they can print excellent components if they purchase a 3D printer, in-house production businesses may demonstrate that their proprietary printers can manufacture complicated, custom parts.

In this sense, in-house manufacturing enterprises that employ proprietary technologies are comparable to vertically integrated OEMs. Not only do these businesses develop their printing technique and equipment, but they frequently develop the materials for their printers as well. As component manufacturers who deliver finished components to clients, they also perform any necessary post-processing (i.e., depowdering, debinding, sintering, milling, finishing, etc.). Additionally, some companies develop and simulate their software in-house. Vertical integration enables the provision of a comprehensive portfolio of services to end customers – component manufacture, consultancy, and design, for example.

The Production Players To Keep An Eye On
Most people in the metal additive manufacturing business are familiar with the traditional 3D printer manufacturers that sell printers for part production, such as EOS, SLM Solutions, and ExOne. While many of these companies do have some in-house production, it is not their primary focus and is often done on a limited scale. On the metal additive manufacturing landscape, new entrants with a proprietary method designed especially for in-house production are emerging — who are some of the players to watch?

3DEO is an American start-up that invented Selective Inhibition Sintering, a unique metal binder jetting technique that works similarly to Multi-Jet Fusion and High-Speed Sintering in concept. In this process, an anti-fusing agent is used with the binder to produce high-quality consolidated metal pieces. 3DEO retained Selective Inhibition Sintering in-house to focus on high-volume manufacturing services, challenging for clients purchasing 3D printers. 3DEO announced the printing of their millionth part in 2021.

Seurat Technologies is another American start-up making waves in the metal additive manufacturing industry, having raised $79 million as of Q1 2022 to commercialize their proprietary Area Printing technology. Area Printing advances laser powder bed fusion, a method frequently hampered by speed concerns, to increase build volume and part throughput. In addition, Seurat is now engaged in a client adoption program designed to assist customers in identifying critical applications for their technology.

Norsk Titanium, the oldest firm on this list, employs its Rapid Plasma Deposition technique exclusively for the in-house manufacture of titanium parts for industrial purposes. Though Norsk has the most focused business of the firms listed, this specialization enables them to focus on high-value verticals with qualification and validation requirements, such as aerospace. Indeed, Boeing is a notable Norsk customer.

Relativity Space is an American aerospace firm with over 700 people and a $1.34 billion market capitalization that has developed its metal additive manufacturing technology for rocket manufacture. It's called Stargate and, according to Relativity, it's the world's largest metal 3D printer, capable of manufacturing a single metal object up to 32 feet tall. Relativity uses Stargate to produce components for their rockets.

Holo is an Autodesk spin-off company that has developed a technology platform called PureFormTM. PureForm cures photopolymer resin filled with metal powder using a patented vat photopolymerization printer optimized for high volume production, resulting in a green part. This component is then debound and sintered to remove the photopolymer and densify the final metal component. This technology is notable for its suitability for 3D printing pure copper, which is challenging to accomplish with powder bed fusion.

Metal additive manufacturing is not the only 3D printing specialty where this method is being used, as seen by the rise of firms like Arevo and Arris Composites in composite 3D printing and OPT Industries and Spectroplast in polymer 3D printing. However, with businesses contemplating alternative revenue models from the outset, IDTechEx anticipates that more additive manufacturing companies will pursue this novel strategy to expand 3D printing adoption.

Notably, this form of organization will not supplant traditional service bureaus. On the contrary, service bureaus can be technology-neutral, allowing them to consolidate printers from various processes and businesses into a single entity. With service bureaus like Materialise and Protolabs earning hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, the contract manufacturing segment of the 3D printing business will continue to proliferate.

Market forecasts for Metal Additive Manufacturing
The IDTechEx research on metal additive manufacturing projects future revenue, install base, and material demand for the metal AM market by segmenting it into ten process categories and nine metal material categories. IDTechEx analyzes each metal printing technology and conducts in-depth market research on metal additive manufacturing materials. For additional information on this market, including profiles of key companies based on interviews, technology benchmarking studies, granular 10-year market estimates, and application case studies, read the IDTechEx market research "Metal Additive Manufacturing 2022-2032: Technology and Market Outlook."


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Education, networking and community all lend a hand to creating strong careers for women in manufacturing. Check out these helpful resources if you’re looking to kick start or advance your career in the trades!