Considering that the market for 3D printed parts made with precious metal powders has just recently come into existence, the new report recently compiled by SmarTech’s Scott Dunham draws quite a glittery picture. The truth is that, while the issues with laser beam energy absorption by precious metals that have previously altered the aesthetic and functional properties of 3D printed final pieces have just been resolved, the potential for additive manufacturing of precious metals was already known to be huge. That is why AM companies worked so hard at resolving the issue. Moreover, 3D printing precious metals significantly affects several major industries, including jewelry, electronics and dental.
Dunham predicts that the market for direct precious metal 3D printed components and products will grow to $2.6 billion by 2020 and $4.1 billion within ten years, in 2024. One of the bases for this conclusion is that materials like gold and silver alloys are desirable for their properties in a variety of applications and that in markets such as jewelry, printed electronics, and medical implants, there is often no replacing the real deal. As 3D printing becomes a more integral process in these applications, it will contribute to increasing demand for valuable precious metal materials.
3D printing is already a significant part of the jewelry industry – and has been for the past decade – through photopolymer-based AM technologies and lost wax casting/microfusion processes. Now, the sector is starting to venture into the territory of directly fabricated jewelry, as companies like EOS and Concept Laser have overcome the hurdles related to direct, commercial 3D printing of precious metal powders.
Dunham also expects new opportunities for 3D-printed precious metals to emerge in the medical/dental and electronics sectors. “For example,” he explains, “3D printers can be used with additive-appropriate gold alloy powders as a result of increasing awareness of complications developing from use of less-inert gold substitutes.” Finally, the relatively new area of 3D-printed electronics is expected to increase the use of silver and gold “inks”, for customized and short run fabrication of antennas and PCBs, which are going to be used to power the Internet of Things. This segment alone is forecasted to reach $235 million by 2020 and $450 million by 2024.
The ten-year forecast, which takes into account several leading companies directly involved in this segment (including 3D Systems, Argen, Asiga, Autodesk, Concept Laser, Cooksongold, DWS, EnvisionTec, EOS, Hilderbrand, Legor, Materialise, Optomec, Progold, Realizer, Shapeways, Sculpteo, Solidscape, Tanaka Precious Metals, Voxel8, and Xerox) established dollar values and quantities (in Kg) of precious metals consumed, the type of services used, and the models of 3D printers being deployed. Considering the market for 3D printing precious metals today is still close to non-existent, these are bold conclusions; however, if we consider that the 3D printing industry as a whole is expected to reach 200 billion by 2025, if that were to occur, it seems likely that precious metals will represent about 2.5% of that amount.