What industries successfully implement AM?

The Wohler Report of 2015 [31] shows us the following picture of the current market share of major AM equipment manufacturing and also the respective adoption in each respective industries. It is important to know the major players and main areas of application and also success cases to better understand the current work and limitations in order to make better decisions related to AM technologies.

Figure 1: Additive Manufacturing market share 2015 [31].


Figure 2: Adoption of Additive Manufacturing in respective industries 2015 [31].


AM has become a basic concept for designers and engineers that is utilized in a great variety of industries. 3D printing technology has mainly been utilized in aerospace, electronics, medical and dental, tools and molds, oil and gas, military, architectural, customized design objects, jewelry design, and automotive industries so far. Automotive and aerospace are the two leading industries implementing AM technology in the global manufacturing industry. Fortune 500 companies have preferred to invest specifically in AM technology.

According to a workshop report developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2013, “AM is not only a disruptive technology that has the potential to replace many conventional manufacturing processes, but also an enabling technology allowing new business models, new products and new supply chains to flourish. However, it remains a nascent technology exploited today by only a small number of early global adopters.”

Some good examples of global AM implementation are as follows:

Rolls-Royce manages a European Union project called Merlin to reduce material consumption by using 3D printing in the manufacturing of aircraft engines. In subtractive manufacturing methods, the production of a one-ton aircraft engine can consume over six tons of metal during manufacture. With additive manufacturing techniques, engineers plan to produce engines with a higher materials utilization, which may go up to a 100% utilization rate.



Pratt & Whitney (P&W) is another pioneering manufacturer utilizing AM technology. The firm has been employing AM for the past 25 years with its advanced experience in both AM and rapid prototype techniques. P&W has employed AM for concept models, casting patterns, tooling, test rig hardware and direct metal parts used in engines.

In Formula One, AM is used to produce parts on the basis of the reactive needs. Rolls-Royce employs AM to produce various components used in their final products, taking advantage of the benefits of AM in terms of dramatically shorter times and less material waste.

In 2011 at the University of Virginia, an engineering class built a one-quarter-scale working replica of a Rolls-Royce AE3007 turbofan jet engine. They used plastic as the main material and the engine was powered by compressed air rather than jet fuel. It took students more than 150 hours to assembly the engine, which would have taken years with huge budgets. According to project lead Professor David Sheffler, the engine was produced in four months for less than $10,000.



A British company, Filton, the producer of the fleet of Concorde, aims to produce an entire wing of an aircraft, which would require bigger 3D printers. This is perceived as a pioneering and challenging goal not only in the aerospace industry, but also in other industries.

GE, Boeing, Ford, United Technologies, Siemens, and BAE Systems are some of the other companies that have already invested in and implemented AM technologies in their manufacturing processes.

The University of Sheffield has been developing 3D printed drones for commercial delivery and reconnaissance operations, similar to Amazon’s Prime Air delivery system. Interestingly, US Military also cooperates with Hollywood companies to design advanced soldier suits. Those companies implement 3D printers into design and manufacturing processes. The companies that already implement AM technology manage various research projects that search for ways to produce large scale parts. For example, Nanfang Ventilator Co. Ltd runs a project for China’s J series jet fighters, which are 28 meter long, 23 meters wide, and 9.5 meters high.

British Finance Minister George Osborne announced a £60 million package to foster technology development in manufacturing industry and the 3D printing technology is one of the areas included in this package. Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry, England, is another university-affiliated organization using 3D printers. Aerospace technology and 3D printing of extremely durable components for spacecraft and aircraft will be the main focus of the center. 

As well as remarkable developments in the manufacturing industry, there is sizeable interest and support provided by the US government institutions, simultaneously. “President Obama announced immediate steps to launch a pilot institute to serve as a proof-of-concept for the NNMI (National Network for Manufacturing Innovation). Five federal agencies—the departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, the National Science Foundation, and NASA—jointly committed to invest $45 million in a pilot institute on AM. In the fiscal year 2013, NIST planned to issue a grant for applied research related to measurement needs in additive manufacturing. On August 15, 2012, the White House announced the launch of a new public-private institute for manufacturing innovation in Youngstown, Ohio. The new partnership, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), includes manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations from the Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia “Tech Belt.”



As an example to demonstrate an interesting connection between industry and government, the first 3D printed car called the "Strati" was presented in the International Manufacturing Technology Show in 2014 [40]. The vehicle was 3D printed in one piece over a 44hrs period using direct digital manufacturing, (DDM), it was the first time this method has been used to make a car. Mechanical components, like battery, motor, wiring, and suspension were sourced from a variety of suppliers, including Renault’s Twizy, a line of electric powered city cars. The initiative was develop by Local Motors in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Labs and is a proof of taking desktop 3D printing technology into production-ready scale.

Figure 3: "Strati", First 3D Printed Car [40].



Of course, the cases shown here are mostly using high-end AM machinery. This is the purpose of this section; to allow the reader to have an idea of the current state of AM and the cutting edge applications that are already possible using AM in production environment. But this is not the only case, as we will see in other sections of this module, lower-end AM machinery (desktop 3D printers mostly) are quickly reaching a point where it is also possible to use them for production applications even in aerospace environment.

Also as an option for many research groups that do not have Additive Manufacturing equipment is that there are organizations and institutions that provide resources and facilities to help with the 3D printing of parts in different materials and techniques along with post-processing and finishing.

The “America Make” is one of these institutions that put a number of resources available to the public related to AM. The “Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing Techology” is another example (also offers certificates to students in 3D printing).  Without doubt “FabLab” is an interesting and important resource for public 3D Printing, you can find your closest FabLab near you and explore what kind of AM equipment they have. Finally, there now the possibility to send your CAD models to companies that can make the part for you using 3D Printers of different types and with different materials, an example of this is “Shapeways.