Now that all the major engine manufacturers are using additive manufacturing (AM) to print metal parts for their newest engines, what’s next? The technology has matured to the point that large capacity machines are going into aerospace plants in northern Germany, says a recent study headed by Roland Berger partner Berhhard Langefeld. Series production with four lasers can now build pieces up to 800 millimeters per side. Over the next 5 to 15 years, Berger consultants predict that many more changes in additive manufacturing engineering, software, machines, materials, post-processing and services are coming.

The technology enables fast prototyping of new parts and thus will make hardware engineering more like software engineering. This means more agile project management methods like scrum, which iterates through a number of fast sprints to provisional client objectives. But traditional computer-aided engineering (CAE) software must be complemented by new AM tools for simulating load responses and dynamics, optimizing topology and internal lattices, optimizing laser paths and meeting other requirements of the new technology. Berger thinks San Francisco-based Autodesk is putting together the right combination of additive manufacturing software.

Berger consultants say the technology will soon be able to exploit characteristics of amorphous metals, which are solid metals, usually alloys, with disordered atomic structures, to lower both process and powder costs. They note the U.K.’s Metalysis has come up with a simpler electrolysis process that might eventually cut powder costs by 75%.

New techniques will also enable AM to print parts with multiple materials to optimize properties in different segments, for example using iron-nickel alloy for its thermal expansion characteristics in one segment but chrome alloy where corrosion resistance is needed.

Current powder bed fusion machines with up to four lasers may eventually be replaced by machines that simultaneously illuminate the entire powder bed, increasing speed by a factor of 10. Or hybrid systems that combine AM with metal cutting could dramatically lower costs, Berger predicts.