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Top Trends in Additive Manufacturing for 2016

Additive manufacturing will continue to advance this year according to ProtoCAM, a provider of AM and rapid prototyping services. Expect larger production runs, increased complexity of parts, greater strength, new materials and more. Here's a rundown of the trends to look for in 2016.

With standardization in place, additive manufacturing (AM) will be used to create a wide range of finished goods. High-volume production runs soon will be common. These mass-produced parts will be delivered within tight specifications for cars, planes, healthcare and beyond.

More Outsourcing

In recent years, many designers and engineers have used their own consumer-grade 3D printers. These printers were brought into offices to deliver rapid prototyping, but have led to problems and headaches instead. High error rates, long print queues and aging machines will lead many companies to outsource all of their additive manufacturing and 3D printing to specialists in 2016.

As more work moves to specialists, expectations of quality and customer service will rise accordingly. So far, specialists have been up to the challenge. The trend of quality seen in the end of 2015 will continue through 2016, with more consistent production, higher security (both digital and physical), more traceable materials and more personalized customer service.

A Growing List of Industries

The reliable production of standardized, certified parts will take additive manufacturing into new industries. Expect to see applications in consumer goods, electronics, telecom, utilities, computing, and construction.

Greater Sophistication of Lightweight Parts and Components

According to the Defense iQ survey, 69 percent of industry experts name "lightweight properties" as the chief benefit of AM. Research and development in 2016 will aim to add strength and complexity to these lightweight parts.

Strength will come from materials such as advanced engineering polymers, metals and hybrid polymer-metals. Complexity will come from new AM techniques, such as lattice structures, cavities, and creation of seamless, interconnected sub-assemblies.

Building with Biomaterials

Researchers will continue to develop new ways to work with biomaterials. Advances will be pursued in prostheses, medical devices, surgical models, custom implants, tissue engineering, tissue printing and regenerative medicine.

Expanding the scale of operations will also lead to innovation. Very small items -- microstructures and nanostructures -- will open new medical frontiers, as will large manufacturing capacities. Large-scale AM will lead to a greater number of patients served and more ambitious applications of biomaterials.

Color is Here

Customers of AM continue to ask for brighter, more vibrant and more detailed colors. Color in industrial applications can help reduce errors, speed up assembly times, improve workplace safety, differentiate products and create more effective training tools. Today's leaders in color technology are capable of more than 10 million colors, with ink drop placement in 32 micron layers. Expect to see more fine details, text and thin lines on AM parts in 2016.

Stereolithography Will Grow

Stereolithography (SLA) is a method of additive manufacturing that uses layering, invented over 30 years ago. Gartner's Pete Basiliere expects SLA to show strong growth over the next few years, delivering a compound annual growth rate of 85.5 percent between 2015 and 2019.

More Research and Development

Research and development in AM will grow for two primary reasons. First, AM companies will pursue innovation in order to stay ahead of competitors. Second, traditional manufacturers will increase investments in AM as they decide whether or not they want to bring AM in-house, and if so, to what degree. Manufacturers who are already experienced with AM will continue to push for higher performance.

Parts for Making Parts

AM isn't just for making parts -- a third of industry experts polled by Defense iQ expect AM to "revolutionize the mainstream production of components and parts." It's likely that AM will soon become a common way to create tooling for mass-produced parts. AM will also be used for on-site repairs and replacements in factory settings. This approach may even eliminate the need to maintain an inventory of spare parts.

Standards, Certifications and Quality Assurance

In a recent survey conducted by Defense iQ, more than 75 percent of industry experts said additive manufacturing's biggest challenge is certification of finished parts and products. In 2016, industry associations will work toward certifications, standards and quality assurance procedures. Once the industry self-regulates and sets the bar for quality, mass production through additive manufacturing will follow.

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