3D Printer Sales Have Been
Wohlers Associates estimates that 3D Systems, Stratasys, Z Corp., Objet Geometries, and Envisiontec sold a combined total of 656 3D printers in 2002, compared to 490 in 2001. This is an increase of 33.9%. This jump compares to a decline of 4.3% in 2001. Growth of 3D printers in 2002 is an interesting topic of discussion, especially considering that sales of other RP systems grew by only 2.1%. 3D printers have grown to represent 25.8% of all RP systems installed worldwide.
Source: Wohlers Report 2003
Wohlers Talk: An Explosion of
Metal-based RP Systems
Ten companies now offer products that produce metal prototypes layer by layer. That's right: 10 of them. 3D Systems (USA) and EOS (Germany) use laser sintering, while Concept Laser (Germany), F&S/MCP (Germany), Phenix Systems (France), and Trumpf (Germany) use laser melting. Arcam (Sweden) also melts metal powder, but it uses an electron beam as the energy source. Optomec and POM use lasers, although they do not spread layers of powder. Instead, the powder is deposited in the path of the laser, creating a weld pool. ProMetal jets a binder onto the surface of a powder layer using an inkjet print head. Similar to parts from 3D's laser sintering, ProMetal parts undergo a heating operation that melts away the binder and infiltrates a second metal, such as bronze, to bring the parts to full density.
Surface finish is a consideration with all 10 processes. Most of them can, or will in the future, produce a surface similar to a sand cast finish. Without adding a step or process, it's unlikely that they will ever match the surface quality of a CNC-machined part. For some applications, it may not matter, but for others, such as tooling, it does matter.
It's interesting to watch this amount of RP activity centered on metal materials. It shows that a lot of people, investors included, believe that these processes will play a role in the future of metal part production. The problem is that the market is currently not big enough to support all of them, so some will disappear or merge with another company. From a customer's perspective, the challenge will be to determine which ones will survive and thrive.
Note: Wohlers Talk is a web log that offers thoughts, ideas, perspective, and commentary related to rapid product development and other topics of interest. Thirty-three commentaries have been published in the past year. To view them, visit
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