In the following video segment, 3D printing specialist Steve Heller asks Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates, a leading 3D printing insights company and publisher of Wohlers Report 2014, to share some of his biggest predictions for 2015.
According to Caffrey, industry watchers should expect an influx of hybrid 3D printers, which combine 3D printing and more traditional subtractive manufacturing processes like CNC machining into one system, as well as increased activity from the aerospace industry.
Aimed at increasing manufacturer efficiency, Yamazaki Mazak Corporation's INTEGREX i-400AM 3D printer combines metal 3D printing with the accuracy and surface finish of traditional machining. In terms of aerospace applications, General Electric's aviation arm is creating a lot of buzz with its 3D-printed jet engine fuel nozzle, which will debut in the upcoming Leap jet engine. By 2020, GE has plans to print more than 45,000 of these nozzles a year, which will likely make history as the largest-scale mission-critical 3D printing application in the history of the industry.
Going forward, it's important for 3D printing investors to monitor leading industry developments to determine if they might have a material impact to the underlying businesses in the sector.
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: What do you see as some of your top predictions going into next year, 2015? What are some of the biggest takeaways you think people should be looking out for? What is Wohlers thinking about that?
Tim Caffrey: A couple of things. One is these hybrid [3D printing] systems -- these machines that combine subtractive CNC milling with directed-energy deposition, blown powder processes. [Yamazaki] Mazak has just announced a system, and we're seeing quite a few of these being introduced, and we think there'll be some impact there.
Also, the aerospace industry, specifically GE Aviation, is building a plant in Auburn, Alabama, to produce these [3D printed] fuel nozzles. That's really a breakthrough. Other aerospace companies -- Airbus, for example -- are also looking at and flying many parts, so in the next year I think we'll see some real hard news on aerospace applications for metal AM [3D printed] parts.
Heller: Speaking of aerospace applications, in terms of the regulatory landscape, the FAA isn't necessarily so easy to adopt [embrace] a new technology. I wonder if you could give some insight into any of the regulatory bodies holding back the adoption rates of 3D printing.
Caffrey: It's definitely a hurdle that has to be cleared. The aerospace industry and the medical industry are very risk-averse, for good reason, and it takes a long time to implement new processes, new standards, new materials; which are all going to be necessary with additive.
We'll see incremental and slow change within these industries, and some difficulties; difficulties with inspecting parts that can't be inspected using conventional techniques, new alloys potentially having to be introduced for the additive processes, that don't actually match the alloys that are used in casting or in forging.
It will be several years. Maybe 10 years down the road, we'll look back and say, "Wow, I can't believe that back in 2014 there were so few [3D printing] standards for parts and for materials and for processes," whereas down the road we'll be seeing of course much more of those. But you're absolutely right, it's a challenge for these industries, and nothing happens overnight.
Heller: Exactly. The 3D printing industry, in your opinion, is going to grow somewhere around the neighborhood of about 30%-31% a year, compounded, through the year 2020, from 2013. What that means is that it's probably going to invite a lot of new competition.
I was wondering if you could comment on how it's inviting more competition, if that's actually going to create lower average selling prices? Is that actually going to pressure the industry? Is that going to create another headwind for the industry players?
Caffrey: It's interesting, we actually see more of a divergence in two directions. One is the low-cost [3D] printers -- which, I agree, you'll probably see a little bit of price pressure on the average selling price for those machines -- that are being bought by small businesses and academic institutions, and in some cases by consumers.
On the other end of the spectrum is the metal printers and other production applications for sintered parts, for example Ultem 9085 and the nylons, so we're seeing high-end applications for production parts in metal. That's one end of the spectrum. Then the other end of the spectrum, as I said, the low-cost printers and a little bit of price pressure.
But everything in between is going to expand, too. Even though rapid prototyping has been around for 20-plus years, there are still a lot of opportunities out there for additional prototyping, from companies that either are underutilizing the technology or companies that don't use it at all. We see the entire industry growing across the entire spectrum, from bottom to top.
Heller: Thank you so much for your time, Tim.
Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.