By Richard Grylls
North America Review
2020 was a year of global turmoil and disruption, and Additive Manufacturing in North America was certainly not immune from the pandemic’s effects. To compile this report I spoke to twenty-four market experts across North America in January 2021 – and heard widely varying messages. Some markets prospered; others carried on reasonably normally, with a pause of typically 3 months before returning to at least 2019 levels; some pivoted rapidly away from underperforming segments to other opportunities; and some had little opportunity to adjust, and felt the pain of the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression.
In Medical, prosperity was the key word, although some reported a nominal three month pause as operations slowed in the spring. End-to-end manufacturing was a key enabler, with vertically integrated manufacturers generally reporting rapidly accelerating demand. The outlook for 2021 was bullish, with the prospect of major medical OEMs beginning to see metal AM as a truly mainstream manufacturing method, rather than a niche technology.
In Aerospace, perhaps the most mixed of all markets, the contrast between the fortunes of rocket manufacturers and commercial aerospace was especially marked. SPACEX demonstrated successful manned flight, with the Crew Dragon flights taking people from the continental US to space for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired – which was significantly enabled by Additive Manufacturing. Others also prospered, including RELATIVITY, whose $500M Series C raise valued the 3D Printed Rocket company at $2.3B before ever launching a rocket. The capabilities of this industry were also instrumental in support of the COVID emergency, with manufacturers such as VIRGIN ORBIT producing ventilator parts supporting hospital demand. In contrast, the segment of the AM industry serving commercial aerospace was significantly affected. Suppliers such as OERLIKON, ARCONIC and CARPENTER, who had invested in facilities and related resources to support an expected increase in commercial aviation volumes, needed to make significant adjustments for the new reality.
The Automotive industry was quick to pivot to medical assistance, such as PPE and ventilator systems, in the spring of 2020, but quickly returned to an innovation-led recovery later in the year. Several AM services within major automotive groups reported record years for parts production, and made significant progress toward their major goals of supporting both electrification and the shift to production of end-use functional parts.
Looking beyond the parts business, two events in December stood out as being potentially significant leading indicators for 2021 and beyond. On December 10th, DESKTOP METAL went public in a $2.5B deal which, at the time of writing, values them at $6.9B. This renewed interest by public investors to fund Additive Manufacturing is encouraging and could trigger others to provide capital for commercial advancement. The other key event in December was the arrival in Los Angeles of the first commercial twelve-laser system from SLM SOLUTIONS, which was delivered to DIVERGENT3D. Long-anticipated, this arrival has created a significant stir in the market, with the prospect of a further step toward serial production for metal AM. Many of the conversations regarding 2020 mentioned this machine, and similar competitor’s machines in development, with a mixture of hope for a step-change in productivity, grounded by the reality of the time it will take these advanced systems to open up new markets.
Ultimately, what made the difference in 2020? A Unique Selling Proposition, the ability to pivot from underperforming markets, and access to bridge capital to weather the slowdown. What will make the difference in 2021? A Unique Selling Proposition, an ability to continuously identify and adjust to performing markets, and access to growth capital to thrive as global markets recover.
By Fabio Sant´Ana
Brazil leading the adoption of AM in South America
The AM Technology in the dental market is still in adoption and in some cases used for implant structures and bars made from Ti-6Al-4V. PLENUM is the first dental implant maker with 100% of his implants additively built by L-PBF. The company achieved regulatory approvals and the devices have been successfully implanted. For dental crowns there is some testing by dental labs, but it is not in large use right now. CONCEPT LASER/GE ADDITIVE and SHINING3D are trying to establish first users.
The Brazilian medical device and implant makers are aware of the benefits Additive Manufacturing of metal implants provides to the whole supply chain. They are implementing the technology with new Electron Beam and Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion machines. First installations took place between end of 2019 and middle of 2020. Although 2020 was a very difficult year since the elective orthopedic surgeries had been suspended for long periods, the industry still invested into AM. Several companies had been granted authorization for the new regulation for patient specific implants. Seven plants have PBF equipment and four of those use Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion. Implantation instruments and surgery guides are also being made from metal in some cases. The prevalent material is Ti-6Al-4V / Ti-6Al-4V ELI alloy, but the more ductile Commercially Pure Titanium cp-Ti is used in some special cases. First off-the-shelf implants were granted regulatory approval and many more are currently in the regulatory approval process. Brazil did not yet experience a big raise in number of regulation approvals granted for off-the-shelf implants.
The traditional industrial market is also adopting AM technology. There are some big companies, mostly automotive industry and their tier 1 suppliers, that use two step AM process of Metal FDM, which requires sintering after printing the green part. Applications can be found in R&D, in tooling and for proof of concept or prototypes. All in all, the industry is investigating.
Aerospace industry had been on a halt due to the pandemic as well as the stoppage on deal of BOEING and EMBRAER. EMBRAER is researching using a LB-PBF machine.
In Oil and Gas, PETROBRAS pursues the advances in Additive Manufacturing technology through research projects with renown research facilities such as SENAI and UFU. The focus is mostly on DED technology right now. In 2020, testing of components made by DED from carbon steels started on off shore sites. The aim is to achieve a proof of concept of the use of Additive Manufacturing to reduce time in servicing critical installations and also reduce the spare part stock cost. Precision casting and forging companies are also interested in AM technology and try to quickly understand how to include AM in their respective supply chain. Research and interest in investment in machines of both PBF and BJT technologies were observable.
The supply of metal AM components had been partially covered by two local LB-PBF machine makers, ALKIMAT (Florianópolis – SC) and OMINTEK (São Paulo – SP ), for multiple materials, as well as by FARCCO ( São Paulo -SP ), that has capacity in EB-PBF technology and material Ti-6Al-4V.
The market for post processing of AM components still lacks resources in Brazil. Many technologies that are needed to be integrated in the process chain for Additive Manufacturing are not available on the Brazilian market. A strong traditional quality control network has been established, but just began to understand the actual needs of AM. In order to acquire this knowledge, INMETRO and other national quality bodies are making partnerships with institutions with AM experience, such as FARCCO and others. Industrial CT scanning, HIP treatment, support removal technologies and other finishing operations are just starting to be introduced in the market. The growth is expected to be slow due to a lack of awareness of the needs of AM. For example, Brazil lacks a service supplier for HIP treatment and only three service providers offer CT scanning.
The situation in other South American countries is similar. Argentina has advanced in developing and making off-the-shelf and patient specific implants using Additive Manufacturing. There are two companies with in-house Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion capacity to make implants and is additionally buying part manufacturing service from overseas. In other industrial sectors, AM technology is considered, but due to the country’s economic situation investments are difficult. In Colombia universities run research centers and Fab labs, such as Universidad Nacional de Colombia.