Aluminium additive manufacturing (AM) has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years, moving from one of the more difficult to process metals with typical laser powder bed fusion (PBF) equipment to one of the most widely demanded materials in the industry. According to a new report by SmarTech Analysis, aluminium alloy materials accounted for almost 10 percent of all printed metal content in 2018, resulting in a 43 percent growth in aluminium powder shipments by a supply chain that is rapidly maturing to catch up to other metal segments. SmarTech expects 2019 and subsequent years to achieve similar growth rates.
To date, almost all commercial activity has been centralised to powder bed fusion of aluminium casting alloys, but since 2017 real efforts to develop new printable alloys and increase the process stability of aluminium in laser-based AM equipment has begun to expand the scope of aluminium printing. Today, aluminium has become a material of special focus by various stakeholders in the industry, from suppliers of aluminium goods and powders, to AM print technology developers, to metal AM service providers.
As the industry now moves to more widespread use of both wrought alloy formulations and specialty aluminium alloys developed specifically for AM processing, the aluminium segment is primed for fast growth along with the rest of the metal AM industry.
Other key findings from the report are as follows:
- SmarTech believes there are two notable major developments that are occurring today since the publication of its last study that are influencing the market to new directions. One of these is the global supply chain for aluminium metal materials in manufacturing appears to have ‘crossed the threshold’ in supporting additive manufacturing as a major next-generation opportunity in aluminium manufacturing. In this way, research, support, supply, and interest in aluminium AM is now beginning to catch up to being equal with the titanium, nickel, and steel industries with regards to additive technologies.
- The continued development and challenges associated with developing solutions for printing of aluminium parts via bound metal printing processes—whether bound metal deposition or metal binder jetting processes—are ongoing. However, many stakeholders in these areas have shifted focus to other more immediately impactful materials like steels. Sintering of printed green stage aluminium parts is likely to be commercialised, but SmarTech expects that aluminium printing will be highly concentrated in the PBF segment for the foreseeable future, acting as a competitive insulator for PBF against other metal AM processes.
- Development and commercialisation of aluminium alloys for printing has increased significantly, in all major groups of aluminium alloy classifications. Though SmarTech still expects that AM-specific, specialised alloys containing rare-earth or transition metal elements will play a large role in the future of aluminium printing, we now anticipate strong growth in printing of popular wrought alloy formulations which have been slightly tweaked for stability and economic processing using additive technologies. This is also true, perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, in casting formulations, creating a much more diverse aluminium AM opportunity in the next five years than existed just a few years ago.
WANT MORE INSIDER NEWS? SUBSCRIBE TO OUR DIGITAL MAGAZINE NOW!