Additive Fabrication Has Become a $1.1 Billion Market

The market for additive fabrication, also known as rapid manufacturing, surpassed the $1 billion mark last year — a first for this industry — according to a recent report.

The market for additive fabrication (AF), consisting of all products and services globally, grew 16 percent to an estimated $1.141 billion in 2007, according to Wohlers Associates, Inc.'s Wohlers Report 2008. This is up from an estimated $983.7 million generated in 2006.

Reaching the $1 billion mark is a first for this industry, according to the consulting firm.

Additive fabrication, also known as rapid manufacturing, "significantly reduces labor costs," making it notably easier for businesses to compete with "companies in countries where labor rates are low," Terry Wohlers, principal author of Wohlers Report 2008 and president of Wohlers Associates, recently said in a statement. "This will become especially important as companies apply AF technology to the manufacture of end-use products."

"Historically, AF technology has been used for applications such as modeling, prototyping and making patterns for silicone rubber molds," the consulting firm noted in a recent industry briefing (second item). In recent years, however, a growing number of companies are using AF systems for custom and replacement part manufacturing, special-edition products, short-run production and even series production. They are also being used to produce manufacturing aids such as jigs, fixtures and assembly guides, which are used to make products.

Research by Wohlers Associates shows that manufacturing with AF has grown from 3.9 percent in 2003 to 11.7 percent in 2007.

"Industry observers believe this market will far surpass our current primary market of rapid prototyping and 3D printing applications," S. Scott Crump, CEO of AF machines manufacturer Stratasys, said in a press release last month.

Indeed, Wohlers expects the industry to grow substantially over the next several years.

By 2012, annual sales of AF products and services will reach an estimated $2.3 billion worldwide, with unit sales reaching 12,000 systems for the year, the latest edition of the report has claimed. By 2015, the company believes the industry will grow to an estimated $3.5 billion for the year, with unit sales reaching 20,000 systems.

Yet the larger economic impact will be "the thousands of organizations that benefit from AF technology," according to Wohlers.

A recent claim by Crump echoes this prediction.

"More and more manufacturers are using additive fabrication for low-volume production," Crump said. "It's called direct digital manufacturing — and it's taking off faster than we thought it would."

Moving forward, we can expect to see "a much wider range of audiences embrace AF for the manufacture of almost everything imaginable," Wohlers believes. "This activity will be supported by AF systems that dip down to $5,000 in price."

Once we reach that point, these compact manufacturing systems could very well show up in unexpected places, says Wohlers: "Individuals operating from a spare room in their homes will manufacture one-off parts and finished products for a broad spectrum of customers."


Wohlers Report 2008

Wohlers Associates Inc., May 1, 2008

New Study Reports $1.1 Billion Market for Additive Fabrication Products and Services

Wohlers Associates Inc., May 1, 2008

Direct Digital Manufacturing: Stratasys Takes Order for Five Large-Format Machines

Stratasys, July 7, 2008

Industry Briefing: Most People Cannot Design

Wohlers Associates, Inc., March 2008

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