16 May 2014—Recent market research reports by Lux Research (Boston, Mass., U.S.A.) and Canalys (Palo Alto, Calif. U.S.A.) predict exceptionally large growth in the 3-D printing/additive manufacturing market in the coming years, which will extend to segments of the photonics market. Several 3-D printing processes use lasers and UV sources to cure metal, polymer and resin materials used in 3-D models, prototypes and parts.

The 3-D printing market for 2012 reached $777 million and will grow to $8.4 billion by 2025, according to Lux, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18 percent. This growth will be driven primarily by the medical market, which requires custom prosthetics tailored to fit individual patients, and the aerospace and automotive markets, which demand small-volume precision parts for engines.

Canalys predicts the broader 3-D printing market including 3-D printer sales, materials and associated services will experience a CAGR of 45.7 percent from 2013 to 2018, from $2.5 billion to $16.2 billion. The Canalys report forecasts that the 3-D printer market alone will grow 79 percent from $711 million in 2013 to $1.3 billion in 2014. 

Laser manufacturer Trumpf (Ditzingen, Germany) announced on 6 May a joint venture agreement with Italy’s largest laser manufacturer, SISMA S.p. A. (Piovene Rocchette, Italy), to co-develop “latest-generation production systems” for 3-D printing metal components. Trumpf has a 55 percent interest in the venture, while SISMA has a 45 percent interest. Both partners are bringing expertise, human resources and capital to develop 3-D printers for industrial mass production.

Trumpf entered the 3-D printing sector in 2000 with the “TrumaForm” industrial tool for the generative manufacturing of metallic materials but had stepped away because the market for serial production of components wasn’t yet developed enough. With this new agreement, Trumpf is re-entering the additive manufacturing market.

In the industrial 3-D printing space, as opposed to the consumer hobbyist “desktop” 3-D printer space, additive manufacturing processes are more likely to use lasers such as ytterbium-doped fiber lasers, CO2 lasers, Nd:YAGs and solid-state He-Cd UV lasers. In recent years, Trumpf has developed direct metal deposition systems in which solid-state and CO2 lasers would melt metal powder to fuse metal seams.