Automotive AM end-use parts – 3D Printing Media Network

SmarTech Analysis just released a new report on automotive additive manufacturing. This new edition follows the report published compiled last year, however, this is not just a new and updated edition. It is an entirely new report, which, for the first time, moves entirely away from AM for prototypes to focus exclusively on automotive AM end-use parts production, which is now fully within reach and is going to enable additive manufacturing to finally scale up.

The term “end-use parts” is used in the report to indicate both final automotive parts and tools (and tools include molds, dies, jigs and fixtures as well as custom assembly tools) used in the automotive production process.

The depth of automotive AM end-use parts

In order to provide new and more detailed information in its forecasts, the report leverages data from SmarTech’s unique and industry-leading database and dissects into more segments. These include two key areas: one is geographic, with country-specific forecasts. The other is relative to the supply chain, trying to answer the question that most automakers are asking themselves: where is the money coming from (that will drive AM adoption in the automotive industry)?

Here SmarTech’s overall data was broken down into part sizes (by polymer and by metal, by revenues and by demand) then further down into specific automotive part types. In the report, this leads to estimates and forecasts on how the revenues will be distributed among three main types of firms: large automakers, automotive parts suppliers (tier 1 and tier 2) and AM service providers.

All this resulted in some 115 exhibits of which about 100 are forecasts. The others are tables and maps that describe the current status of the automotive AM market, including all publicly release key investments made by automakers and AM companies working with automotive companies.

By breaking up the data into smaller segments, by taking into consideration past and current additive manufacturing industry trends, as well as interviews conducted with key automotive AM segment operators, any possible incongruency from higher-level, is smoothed out.

automotive AM end-use parts
A map of key automakers and their use of automotive AM end-use part production application cases. Click on the map to enlarge it. Source: SmarTech Analysis.

A $9 billion opportunity

This is how much the automotive AM end-use parts production market is going to be worth in 2029 according to the new forecasts. As can be seen in the chart above, which is the final chart compiled from all the different data sets, this vertical is expected to be very much hardware-driven, with AM hardware representing more than a third of all revenues. This means that a lot of 3D printers will be needed to meet the productivity requirements of the mass automotive industry.

That is good news for hardware manufacturers. But only up to a point. Clearly, at least for the next ten years, the value proposition for AM in automotive mass production will still be challenging to identify. The difference is that until a few years ago, this value proposition was almost non-existent (except for prototyping and some tooling). Now it exists and its potential is very significant.

There are two main reasons why it exists: one is that manufacturers of “traditional” AM technologies for both polymers and metals (EOS, 3D Systems, Stratasys, SLM Solutions, etc.) have been working to optimize the end-to-end AM production process by introducing more elements of automation, by improving the software that runs the AM process and by developing new designs that can fully take advantage of AM technologies (DfAM). The reason why they finally did this is that the pressure is on from a number of new entry AM firms (HP, Carbon, Desktop Metal) that have been introducing faster and more cost-effective processes, the so-called planar processes, specifically with automotive mass production in mind.

The implications of this “clash of titans” will be seen more clearly over the next decade but my opinion is that this will greatly benefit adoption, pushing large automotive firms to continue to invest large sums of money even if the short term financial benefits from AM applications are not as immediately clear as they may be in other segments (such as for example medical, dental aerospace and some consumer products). This report will further analyze this and many other key aspects of automotive additive manufacturing, including materials availability (with a look at ceramics and composites as well as high-performance plastics and metals).

Where is the money

This report delves deep into the geographic distribution of AM parts production, where the relevant role of China emerges strongly. Although Chinese automakers have not made significant public proclaims regarding their adoption of 3D printed parts, SmarTech has learned that there are several 3D printing service providers that supply additively manufactured parts to automotive companies as part of their standard production services. This, combined with the size of China’s car industry and Chinese companies’ generally rapid adoption of new production technologies (including imported AM technology), leads SmarTech to expect that China will become the largest market for automotive AM by the end of the forecast period. Further details on country-specific adoption trends are available in the report.

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