The head of new technologies for Airbus expects that Additive Laser Manufacturing (ALM) will increase scope in multiple industries by 30% per year going forward. Peter Sander, director of Emerging Technologies and Concepts for Airbus, delivered the keynote address at the METSTRADE show in Amsterdam, providing a glimpse into the fast rapid growth of ALM, or 3D Printing, as it is more commonly known. ALM has been used to build cars, boats and is even making spare parts on the International Space Station.

Sander, who has researched industrial applications for advanced processes for 35 years, said that 3D printing results in shorter lead times, lighter parts and a significant reduction in the costs of manufacturing. “A recent report on the technology suggests there will be a market increase of 30% per year on machine, materials and services,” said Sander. “3D printing is quickly changing a lot of business models and ways of thinking.”

ALM has entered the leisure boating industry via several boatbuilders in Italy, including Livrea, that have used 3D printing to build parts. “We’re seeing complex structures like houses being built and the city of Amsterdam wants to use two robots using 3D printing to build a bridge over two years,” said Sander. The International Space Station (ISS) has a 3D printer to reuse plastic materials on board. The Maersk freighter line also has 3D printers on some of its container ships to print small parts.

Besides the ability to build lighter, strong parts in different materials, 3D printing also reduces the costs of tooling and having large stores of materials for future production.

The pace of technology is increasing along with the size, according to Sander. “We’re getting double the printing speed every year,” he says. “But we’re also seeing the serial printers getting larger every year.”

Currently the largest 3D laser printer is in South Africa with Aerosud Industries. That company will be making different parts for Airbus. “It also offers a big saving in designing and building complex parts,” he says. “We expect that 10% of our spare parts will be printed in the future.”

The Airbus executive encouraged the marine industry to become involved in 3D printing. “Imagine you need a critical part,” he said. “Instead of developing tooling and having it in months, you’ll have in your hands in three weeks.”