Advent of Additive (3D) Manufacturing Adds to Machine Tool Shops’ Capabilities

Advent of Additive (3D) Manufacturing Adds to Machine Tool Shops’ Capabilities

Roy Amara once said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. In the machine tool market, additive manufacturing promises to be revolutionary, enabling the production of parts that would be nigh-impossible to create with conventional machine tools. How is additive manufacturing going to impact the types of parts and profitability of machine shops in the future?

Additive Manufacturing – the Process

The process to create a piece via additive manufacturing encompasses multiple steps: first, a design of the piece to be manufactured is created in a computer-aided design program (CAD). Then, the additive manufacturing machine repeats a cycle of depositing a layer of metal powder, then melting or sintering the powder to gradually form the object. After the program is executed, excess powder is removed.

Benefits of additive manufacturing include:

  • the ability to manufacture unconventional shapes that would be otherwise difficult to manufacture – due to the different manufacturing process, additive manufacturing machines can create parts that are impossible to create via cutting away material (e.g., hollow items that are fully sealed)
  • easy modifications of parts through CAD programs – additive manufacturing models can quickly be adjusted in a CAD design program
  • quick turnaround time – the time spent tweaking a computer model to produce a physical prototype is greatly reduced, expediting job completion
  • reduced waste – because material is added instead of removed (in contrast to most machine tools), the amount of unused material is much smaller than conventional cutting tools

However, because the technology and materials are so new, additive manufacturing machine tools are expensive, and only a few equipment suppliers offer them. As a result, additive manufacturing tools are currently outcompeted by other machine tools that benefit from economies of scale.

Additive Manufacturing in the Future

Currently, additive manufacturing is helpful primarily for manufacturing parts that are difficult to create any other way, and where large quantities of parts are not needed. The technology only outcompetes other tools’ capabilities for applications that are low volume (since the machine only makes one part at a time) and are complex (since other tools can make simple shapes more quickly via cutting away material). As the technology develops, however, manufacturers will find new uses for additive manufacturing tools (for example, creating single-piece joints that currently require multiple pieces to assemble) that will bring costs down and enable stronger, less expensive parts to be created more quickly.

Other drivers include the potential unleashed by combining additive manufacturing with technologies that increase machine connectivity, such as the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is currently used to monitor machine tools, informing operators of task completion, maintenance requirements, and errors. However, new manufacturing capabilities created with IoT – such as self-correction of errors and the capacity to run a machine shop 24/7 via automation – will expand manufacturer profits and cut down on time needed to complete machining work.

In the near future, the (currently) limited applications, low volume throughput, and training requirements for use of the CAD program will limit the types of firms interested in purchasing an additive manufacturing machine. However, as the technology improves and the types of applications expand, additive manufacturing tools are likely to become a staple of most machine shops.

Want to Learn More?

Want to know more about the machine tool industry? We have you covered! For additional information and analysis of US industry trends, see Machine Tools: United States, a report published by the Freedonia Focus division of The Freedonia Group. This report forecasts to 2022 US machine tool demand and shipments in nominal US dollars at the manufacturer level. Total demand and shipments are segmented by product in terms of:

  • metal cutting
  • metal forming
  • accessories
  • parts, rebuilt, and remanufactured machines

To illustrate historical trends, total demand, total shipments, the various segments, and trade are provided in annual series from 2007 to 2017.

While you’re there, check out some of our related reports, which include:

About the Author

Owen Stuart is a Market Research Analyst with Freedonia Focus Reports. He conducts research and writes a variety of Focus Reports, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.