The use of 3D printing is increasing in enterprise manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace industry, new analysis from ABI Research finds.

The new ABI Research survey reveals that 44% of manufacturing companies currently have 3D printers in operation, although most of these deployments are for prototyping purposes only. This is set to change over the next ten years as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approve more 3D-printed parts for use in commercial jet engines, and additive manufacturing (AM) specialists continue to innovate for production-scale implementation in other industries, the researchers say.

A ‘scale not seen before’

Pierce Owen, Principal Analyst at ABI Research, comments: “Aerospace original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), hospitals, dentists, and their suppliers already benefit from practical 3D printing use cases. Now, innovation from both established and new entry specialists will create more use cases in more industries on a scale not seen before. Even if AM does not make sense for mass production, distributed manufacturing platforms that provide access to 3D printers close to end users, will empower almost all manufacturers to explore using AM for replacement parts on-demand.”

The US aerospace and defence industries will make up a large chunk of AM growth over the next ten years, producing additive manufactured parts and products with a value of $17.8 billion in 2026, according to ABI. This is due to the sheer size of the American aerospace industry and its defence budget. GE Additive and GE Aviation already 3D print fuel nozzles for the LEAP jet engines designed for the commercial aircraft of Airbus, Boeing and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (Comac), the researchers note.

Adapting to 3D printing

“While certain industries have already embraced 3D printing technology, to have widespread appeal, other sectors will have to redesign both products and supply chains with the help of AM engineering consultants and front-line workers, and AM specialists will have to build machines that work faster and cheaper,” concludes Owen.