Opportunities in 3D Printing and Advanced Manufacturing

Speakers from three industrial companies presented at our 3D Printing & Advanced Manufacturing conference last week, giving an overview of their existing activities in this exciting new area and how they are continuing to develop their offer to capitalise on the strong growth and value creation opportunities ahead. The companies were Xaar, Victrex and Metalysis.

Our presenters noted the significant attractions that 3D printing offers such as lower set up costs (no tooling requirement), increased flexibility (parts on demand, every part can be different), reduction in waste (from adding layers of material, rather than subtracting unnecessary material from a larger piece), reduced overheads (decentralised manufacture, elimination of spare part storage), and opportunities to create new parts not possible through other manufacturing methods. However for current 3D printing technologies these benefits are accompanied by slow production speeds, as well as expensive machines and production materials. Consequently while industrial interest is high, usage has been focused on small, complex, high value parts for which only small volumes are required, such as prototyping.

All three of the companies see significant opportunities as these challenges are progressively overcome. An independent report by Wohlers calculated the global manufacturing market at c.$12 trillion, with significantly less than 1% currently penetrated by 3D printing. Projected growth for 3D printing is forecast at c.25-30% CAGR over the medium term, as the technologies become better suited for industrial production. Polymers represents c.80% of today’s 3D printing industry, with metals accounting for c.20% but growing significantly.

Xaar 

Professor Neil Hopkinson, Director of 3D Printing at Xaar, highlighted the central role for inkjet as polymer 3D printing transitions to production. He noted that two out of the three most recently introduced 3D printing solutions are based on inkjet printing, taking advantage of its scalability, robust technology and ability to print advanced materials. This provides great opportunities for Xaar to sell print heads to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of 3D printers, given its market leading position in print heads for industrial 2D printing and its open supply chain model. The second area of focus for Xaar uses High Speed Sintering. This is an inkjet based technology invented by Professor Hopkinson, which manufactures at significantly higher speeds than other 3D printing processes. This technology is already in the market on a licensed basis and development of Xaar’s own 3D printing equipment and services is well underway.

Victrex

Martin Court, Managing Director of Victrex’ Medical & Emerging Businesses, discussed the group’s 10 years of investment and progress in 3D printing. He explained that Victrex is leading a UK consortium pursuing innovation in this area, with partners such as Airbus Group Innovations and the University of Exeter. Victrex is developing new grades of polyaryletherketone (PAEK or PEEK) based on innovative chemical formulations which are specifically designed to work in 3D printing/additive manufacturing processes, and has recently opened a polymer innovation centre in the UK. Technical challenges still to overcome include weakness between layers, brittleness in finished parts, slow cycle times vs conventional injection moulding processes and degradation issues. However the group believes 3D printing represents a significant opportunity for its high performance polymers, particularly in aerospace and medical applications.

Metalysis

Unlisted group, Metalysis, is focused on the opportunities in metal, rather than polymer, 3D printing. Tony Ratcliffe, Chief Financial Officer, described the business’ proprietary technology which is well-suited to producing the consumables for metal 3D printing. This produces metal powders in a cleaner and more cost effective manner than traditional processes, with fewer steps and using materially less energy. It is suitable for a broad range of industrial metals and alloys, including innovative alloy combinations which cannot be made by conventional methods, and allows tailored particle sizes to suit the customer’s application. The process has been progressively scaled up from proof of concept to an industrial modular unit. Target customers include big end users in markets such as aerospace and automotive, as well as resource companies. Current revenues from customer development contracts are expected to progress towards licence, JV or partnering deals over the next two years.

It was clear that the developing 3D printing market offers exciting prospects for growth for all three businesses who presented at our event, with certain other industrial groups in our coverage also set to benefit. We are happy to arrange further contact with these companies for investors who are keen to find out more.

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