The raw materials used in 3D printing still remain costly, generally about 30 to 100 times greater than materials used for injection molding, but prices are declining and can be expected to decline further as volumes increase. The 3D printing raw material market may be worth in excess of $600m by 2025, according to recent research by Market Research Reports.
Additive Manufacturing now encompasses a vast selection of materials that can be used including multiple types of plastics, resins, ceramics, and metals. Bio-printing is also making progress in printing with various types of living tissue. The 3D printing raw material market is possibly the most contentious issue in the 3D printing industry today. 3D printer manufacturers are increasingly engaging in practices that are perceived by end-users as anti-competitive by locking customers into their own material supplies via key-coding and RFID tagging of feedstock cartridges, an activity that is effectively enabling monopoly pricing of the feedstock materials involved.
The development of new materials for 3D printing is hindered by lock-in practices by some 3D printer manufacturers. Barriers to entry for 3rd party materials suppliers are high, and those who do enter the market are unable to get the economies of scale required to accelerate both materials development and progress towards a competitive market.
In the short to mid-term, downwards pressure on material prices will be driven mainly by new entrants to the 3D printer manufacture arena that does not engage in lock-in practices and enable customers to source materials from the supplier(s) of their choice, and also by pressure from large end-users wielding buying power to force prices down. High growth can be expected in the market for metal powders if rapid manufacturing grows at a significant pace by replacing traditional subjective methods, although production, currently placed at less than 30 tons/year, will remain relatively low. This, in combination with high raw material and processing prices, will combine such that prices for these materials will fall more slowly than for alternative 3D printing materials.
Models constructed from a white but can be different colors, very fine, granular powder. The result is a strong, somewhat flexible material that can take small impacts and resist some pressure while being bent. The surface has a sandy, granular look, and is slightly porous.
Constructed from a blend of gray aluminum powder and polyamide, a very fine, granular powder. Alumide is a strong, somewhat rigid material that can take small impacts and resist some pressure while being bent. The surface has a sandy, granular look and is slightly porous.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)
Strong oil-based thermoplastic that is very similar to PLA. ABS is made from wire-like filament with many color options. Stronger, longer-lasting, with a higher melting point compared to PLA.
PLA (polylactic acid)
A biodegradable type of thermoplastic that is manufactured out of plant-based resources such as corn starch or sugar cane. It is very similar to ABS. Requires less specialized printing equipment that provides more detailed capabilities than ABS. It comes in a variety of colors and transparencies.
Liquid Photopolymer used in Stereolithography that is strong, hard, stiff, water-resistant, and usually transparent.
Metals are printed from a powdered form that can achieve density and porosity that is better than normal forged metal parts. It is also able to reduce waste and create complexity that is not achievable or cost-effective using traditional machining methods. Currently, the cost of metal printing is so prohibitively expensive that it will not replace normal subtractive or forged methods except when complexity is impossible or where weight and strength of the final part are key components such as in the aerospace industry and justify the added cost. I don’t see average consumers ever being able to print in metals with hobbyist printers as the dangers involved when handling these metals requires extensive metallurgical expertise. Metal powders are extremely dangerous if inhaled and very explosive if ignited. This is part of the reason why metal printers cost so much because the printing has to take place in a pressurized environment filled with a neutralizing gas like argon.
Current metals that can be 3D printed
- Stainless Steel
Powder that is printed using a binder agent. The surface is glazed then fused and hardened in a kiln. The final product is hard, rigid, but fragile. Not a good material for detail.
Sandstone is the only material capable of full-color 3D prints. Models are created by printing binder material and colored ink layer-by-layer into a bed of gypsum-based powder. After printing, the models are finished with a cyanoacrylate sealant (super glue) to ensure durability and vivid colors. The final product is a hard, brittle material that works great for figurines and visual models, but isn’t well suited to functional parts or daily handling.
Used for creating molds that can be used for short production runs in metal or other materials. Castable wax is primarily used to make molds for the production of custom jewelry.
Uses recycled glass powder with a binding material. The parts that will become a model are hardened by the binder and the rest remains as glass powder. The fragile model is then gingerly lifted out of the powder and fired in a kiln. The binder evaporates and the model fuses. Smaller start-ups are making headways into creating new printable materials such as synthetic wood and carbon fiber.
This is a bit of information on 3D printing raw material analysis. Hope you find it informative.
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