3D printing technology was introduced in the early 1980s but gained prominence after 1990. The 3D printing revolution focused on the usage of plastics due to its low-cost printer feedstock and high throughput. To date, 3D printing with metal has been expensive due to the high cost of titanium powders (price range of about US$ 200 per kilogram to US$ 400 per kilogram). Decrease in production costs and advancements in technology of 3D printing have the potential to reshape the industry structure. 3D printing is using widely in the aerospace, automotive, and medical industires due to its benefits such as economical cost, lesser time, less complexity, etc. Polymers that are used in 3D printing applications are typically available in filament form.
Some of the commonly used plastics in 3D printing applications are polyethylene, nylon, polylactic acid (PLA), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polyvinyl alcohol plastic (PVA). PLA is produced from organic and renewable resources such as sugarcane and corn starch. It is typically used for biodegradable medical devices and implants and food packaging. It is utilized for 3D printing applications due to its environmentally friendly nature, ease of processability, and its ability to be used as either a resin or filament. ABS exhibits favorable characteristics such as durability, strength, heat resistance, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of production. Due to these properties, it is extensively used for 3D printing applications. However, its usage is slowly decreasing as ABS is a petroleum-based polymer, which restraints its availability. It is also non-bio-degradable. Eco-friendly and bio-degradable polymers are preferred, especially in the medical industry. Another factor responsible for the diminishing popularity of ABS in 3D printing applications is production of irritating fumes during the fabrication process. PVA is water soluble polymer that is most commonly used as packaging film, thickener, or as glue. In 3D printing applications, PVA is primarily utilized in parts of a product that require structural support to prevent it from collapsing during the printing process. In this process, PVA provides support to the product structure while the final product is manufactured from other polymer material(s). Since PVA is water soluble, the finished product can be soaked in water till the PVA support structure is dissolved.
Increase in usage of 3D printers in various applications in industries such as electronics, energy, aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, and medical is one of the factors driving the market for polymers that are utilized in 3D printing applications. Out of materials that can be used in 3D printing applications (such as metals, ceramics, plastics, etc.), use of polymers is dominant due to their wide availability and versatile properties. This provides an opportunity to manufacturers of polymers to develop and provide plastic resins for specific industries and applications. In this way, they would be able to add value to their products and acquire, retain, and expand their customer base.
3D printing has wide usability in several industries such as aerospace & defense, medical, automotive, and others such as architecture. The aerospace & defense industry is the key consumer of polymers with 3D printing applications. Due to rise in usage and availability of polymers for 3D printing, the aerospace industry can produce other parts that have significant benefits for this sector and aircraft maintenance. In the medical industry, orthopedic implants can be produced with the use of 3D printing polymers. Polymers can also be used to manufacture standard and custom implants in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, polymers for 3D printing application in health care can focus on prototyping, prosthetics, custom orthodontic implants, medical instruments, training, models to direct surgery, pharmaceutical testing and production, tissue used in testing and transplants, and other potentially problematic procedures. Polymers with 3D printing applications in the automotive industry are used to design automotive components with high mechanical strength. They are also used in prototyping and tooling by automotive manufacturers owing to improved robustness.
Currently, developed areas of North America and Europe are significant regions of the polymers market for 3D printing applications. . A majority of manufacturers of polymers for 3D printing applications are based in these regions. Research and development activities are also being carried out in these regions. Moreover, the 3D printing industry is expanding rapidly across the world. This presents an opportunity for polymer manufacturers in the rest of the world to develop their products according to the requirements for 3D printing applications. Investments and expansion by companies could provide an opportunity to capture local market share during the forecast period. This kind of expansion by manufacturers of polymers for 3D printing applications can help them acquire and retain customers, while also consolidating their presence in the market.
Some of the players operating in polymers market for 3D printing applications include Innofil3D BV, ELIX Polymers, Carbon Inc., Arkema Group, Evonik, Stratasys Ltd., and ENVISIONTEC INC.
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