When 3D printing was first commercialised in the 1980s it was mostly used for small scale prototypes and its industry growth was quite slow. At that time, the hardware was slow and the prints lacked the properties required for use in products for the medical, electronics, or even home utensils sector. Designs were limited to cheap, disposable plastics that were weak and had no functional properties. But in recent years, the 3D printing industry has been growing rapidly.
The Growth of 3D Printing
More 3D printing software and hardware have been developed not only for the commercial or industrial sectors, but even for hobbyists and product designers working from their own homes. Prices of 3D printers declined. The ability to create highly customised designs on-site became a much speedier process. You could now do quicker design iterations, have more freedom with designs, waste fewer materials, and assemble high-quality end-use parts with a more simplified method. Business and designers began to see the huge opportunity 3D printing presents in manufacturing all types of products, from mobile phones to artificial ligaments.
Demand for more 3D printing materials
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA) plastics used to be the only materials used in 3D printing. However, 3D printing is now a technology used in architecture, medicine, aerospace, jewellery, and other high-profile industries, and most of the end-use parts used in these industries cannot be made just from ABS or PLA plastics. Thus, the development of novel 3D printing materials needed to be addressed.
As newer materials were introduced or existing ones greatly improved, the filament production industry grew rapidly. In fact, a study in www.idtechex.com states that seven key materials (photopolymers, thermoplastic powders, thermoplastic filaments, metal powders, welding wire, plaster, sand and binder) are predicted to have a total market value of over $8 billion by 2025.
Another reason why there is a growing demand for improved or new 3D printing materials is lot-to-lot variations in the adhesion, melting temperature, and other properties of most materials proved to be a challenge in producing consistent results. Today, filament manufacturers are producing filaments with more consistent viscosities, melting points, and other important characteristics. These materials can print stronger products that are more aesthetically appealing. This is because they have layers that are more tightly bonded and are smoother.
The desire to create more environmentally friendly 3D printed products is another reason for the filament market’s advancement and growth. There is now biodegradable thermoplastic, professionally engineered ABS filament produced from 100% recycled plastic, filament made from coffee by-products, and printing materials made from paper or architectural wood waste composite.
The Role of 3D Printing Materials Advancements in the 3D Printing Industry
It cannot be denied that locally manufactured and highly customised items will become more widespread and affordable as the 3D printing industry continues to move forward. And in order for 3D printed parts to keep up with the market demands, the materials used need to be as advanced, or even more advanced, as the printers.