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Metal needed to show mettle of 3D printing

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Metals are the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales growing at 48% and material sales growing at 32%, writes RACHEL GORDON, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx

Plastic 3D printing has its place in prototyping and education, but 3D printing in metal is being used to manufacture parts in a wide variety of industries. Metals are the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales growing at 48% and material sales growing at 32%, according to the brand new IDTechEx report 3D Printing of Metals 2015-2025.

Adoption by high-value low-volume industries 

Because of the current speed, size and cost limitations, the high value, low volume industries such as aerospace and biomedical, have been the earliest adopters. GE Aviation are investing $3.5bn in new plant to house EOS M-280 printers to print 100,000 fuel nozzles by 2020. Arcam claim their 3D printers had been used to manufacture over 50,000 orthopaedic implants so far. Both these industries demand titanium alloys, giving them a market share of 31% by volume. Aerospace is also heavily investing in cobalt alloys, nickel alloys and aluminium alloys.

Fig 1. Breakdown of installed base and 2014 sales by company showing most companies are experiencing huge growth in sales and there are many new players in the market. Source: IDTechEx Research

Fig 1. Breakdown of installed base and 2014 sales by company showing most companies are experiencing huge growth in sales and there are many new players in the market. Source: IDTechEx Research

Jewellers are also early adaptors of SLM technologies. There are many reasons jewellers are able to quickly adopt the technology; there are no qualifying standards for jewellery; jewellery designers are already good at CAD; they are used to subcontracting; they are skilled in finishing and polishing; they used to making bespoke items; and they crave design freedom and unusual designs. The jewellery industry is driving 3D printing in precious metals, with gold powder having a 49% market share by revenue.

More and more industries are adopting 3D printing 

Dental suppliers, Argen Digital, offers metal substructures to make copings and bridges with the same properties as cast parts. Siemens are producing blades for gas turbines for power generation. NASA have said that they intend to 3D print 80-100% of their rocket engines in the future.

Wide range of technologies, alloys and applications 

3D Printing of Metals 2015-2025 (www.IDTechEx.com/3dmetals) covers the full range of metal 3D printing equipment including selective laser melting, electron beam melting, blown powder, metal + binder, welding and other emerging technologies…using a wide range of precious metals and engineering alloys including aluminium, cobalt alloys, nickel alloys, steels, nitinol, gold, platinum and many more…in a variety of industries including aerospace, automotive, dental, jewellery, oil and gas, orthopaedics, printed electronics and tooling.

Worldwide forecasts of equipment and materials to 2025 

The report includes a very detailed breakdown by company and technology of the worldwide 3D printer sales during 2014 and installed base at the end of 2014. The properties of all commercially available 3D metal printers are mapped by speed, volume, precision, and price. Powder shipments in 2014 by volume and revenue are detailed. Forecasts to 2025 are for the total installed base, printer shipments each year, printer prices, revenue from printer sales, and metal powder sales split by volume and revenue.

The information has been gathered by IDTechEx analysts from 29 formal interviews (included as profiles) and many informal conversations, since we started tracking the 3D printing market. However, this is the first time all the information on equipment, materials and applications related to metal 3D printing has been clearly displayed in one report.

This report is valuable to anyone involved in equipment or materials for metal 3D printing, developing the technology for new applications or concerned about the impact on the aerospace, automotive, dental, jewellery, oil and gas, orthopaedics, printed electronics, tooling and general engineering industries.

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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