Global effects of COVID-19 on user activities
Slow down or shift of many user activities in metal AM
AM users from various industries will be affected in different ways by the lock down, travel ban and the overall expected recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The aviation industry was severely struck by the worldwide lockdown. Especially the long-lasting international travel restrictions are putting extreme stress on airlines and aircraft OEMs such as BOEING and AIRBUS. Unfinished AM developments and processes, which have not been qualified for production, will struggle to move forward in the following recession as manufacturers will focus on core technologies and products to survive. However, defense as well as space applications seem less affected as of now. Especially the defense sector is growing continuously due to international tensions and increasing military budgets.
The oil and gas industry will face similar challenges as civil aviation due to the extreme decrease in oil prices with uncertain long-term prediction of recovery. However, the advantage of spare part production and reduced storage needs, might trigger an increased investment in AM to improve flexibility and reaction to future economic turmoil. Other industries like tooling or mechanical engineering are seeing a similar chance in metal AM. The disruption of the international supply chain increased activities to evaluate metal AM as a backup solution for spare parts or short-term production.
In the automotive industry, where metal AM is primarily part of R&D efforts, a short-term decrease to cut cost is predicted. The long-term development will strongly depend on the belief, whether AM technologies will be one enabler of future personal mobility concepts. Especially less established AM technologies such as Binder Jetting will face major challenges to convince R&D or pre-series manufacturing departments to invest in high cost machine technology with unproven serial production capabilities in the next few years. Similar will be true for MIM houses at the brim of adopting BJT. Depending on the decline of demand in the luxury and consumer goods market investments in BJT systems will be pushed into the future.
The already very mature AM market of medical applications, on the other hand, will be affected much less. Medical device manufacturers are relying on AM as one of their core technologies. It is expected that the effect will be in the margin of the overall shrinkage of the world economy.
The quick, unconventional and solidary help of many users and R&D departments during the crisis to manufacture face shields, masks or respirator parts showed the potential Additive Manufacturing has, enabling flexible and fast production. However, most of these applications were printed with polymer technologies. High part and qualification requirements, complex manufacturing and post processes as well as the need for lengthy certification through notified bodies limits similar reaction times for metal AM technologies. Metal AM is often caught in the middle of supply chains of conventional technologies in a rather conservative industrial environment.