Fresh Powder for 3D Printing Market

Three-dimensional printing, once the stuff of futuristic fantasy alone, has increasingly insinuated itself into our vernacular. And the rise of this scene-altering innovation is giving rise, in turn, to the revival of an age-old industry: the production of powdered metal.

Because 3D printers feast on metal in powder form in their production of everything from titanium medical implants to Elon Musk’s nickel alloy rocket parts, the industry has insisted on a return of focus on this niche market.

And as 3D printing technology continues to climb over the course of the next decade, the demand for powders made of aluminum, cobalt and other industrial metals is bound for continued ascent. That explains the explosion of companies shifting their focus to powdered metal in the last year or two, hungry to capitalize on the demand.

Consulting firm KPMG published a report in August that revealed that some 53% of global metals organizations have invested or plan to invest in research and development in additive manufacturing, and that a further 40% are considering an investment.

But years of low metal prices and the lack of capital that is their legacy, the report cautioned, could slow investments for the next few years, the report said.

More than that, the high costs of this technology and absence of comprehensive testing around it threaten to hamper the industry. Fewer than 100 companies are actively pursuing 3-D printing with metal powder, according to the Metal Powder Industries Federation.

But no one disputes that extensive growth in the powdered metal market is imminent. Research firm IDTechEx has predicted that the global 3D printing powder market will exceed $5 billion by 2025, a stratospheric leap from the $250 million that marked it in 2016.

That, say those with their eye on this scene, is because metal printing is the avenue along which this industry will most productively travel, relegating plastic 3D printing to prototyping and educational applications only.

Indeed, 3D printing of metals is the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing, with printer sales growing at 48% and material sales growing at 32%, according to a just-published report from British market research analyst ReportBuyer.