“In the future people will also print their schnitzel”

3D printing makes life easier: Airplanes are lighter and save kerosene, the tooth crown fits straight away and transport and storage costs are eliminated. Experts expect a lot more in the next few years.

Airplane parts and custom-made spectacle frames, artificial hip joints and dental crowns are already coming from the 3D printer in many cases. According to a study by the management consultancy Ernst & Young, sales of around 11 billion euros will be generated this year. The market should continue to grow by 25 percent annually and by 2023 will already be a good 25 billion euros. And “in the future, people will also print their schnitzel,” said Professor Nikolaus Adams on Wednesday at the start of a 3D printing conference at the Technical University of Munich .

The steak has already been made in the laboratory as an experiment. But technology is already part of everyday life in industry, especially in aircraft construction: 78 percent of companies in this industry use it, the remaining 22 percent plan to follow suit, according to the EY study. Because 3D printing allows completely new, much lighter components – and “that saves weight and costs,” said Airbus manager Remedios Carmona in Munich. The door hinge for the A350 used to consist of ten parts; today it is printed in one piece in Donauwörth, Bavaria.

“With a weight saving of one kilogram on all Lufthansa aircraft, we save 26.5 tons of kerosene per year,” explained Steffen Milchsack from Lufthansa . Boeing manager Melissa Orme said in Munich that her company has already installed around 70,000 parts from the 3D printer in aircraft and satellites. The technology is used in 20 Boeing plants today. As an example, she cited an antenna component: formerly a massive block, now a filigree lattice structure.

In 3D printing, plastic, ceramic or metal powders are fused layer by layer with the help of lasers until the desired shape is created. The process enables completely new, weight-saving structures that would not be possible with conventional techniques.

According to EY, only 59 percent of companies in the automotive industry use 3D printing, for example for the construction of machine parts and tools. It can also be used to produce prototypes much faster and more cheaply – this speeds up research and development, as Anne Thenaise from the French aircraft supplier Safran emphasized.

And spare parts can be produced quickly without high storage and transport costs even in remote regions – for example on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean. “The Navy wants to press a button, get a component and install it in the machine,” said Lockheed Martin manager JD McFarlan in Munich.

According to the EY study, this will be driven by demand in aircraft construction and in medicine, where custom-made products are needed, as well as new materials that are suitable for 3D printing. A printer can cost well over a million euros, and the material is not cheap either. But “medical technology already earns good money with it,” said Tobias Stittgen from RWTH Aachen University. The Irish company Stryker, for example, has around 70 systems running today on which implants for medicine are manufactured.

Of the 900 companies surveyed, two thirds of German companies use 3D printing. In South Korea and China it is even around 80 percent. “3D printing is currently very popular in Asia. In China in particular, additive manufacturing is set as one of the clear priorities in the economic strategy at the country level, ”said Stefana Karevska from EY. “There is still a lot of testing going on in Germany – the local companies have not yet made as much use of it as the Asian ones, for example.”

The technology is actually far enough for use, said TÜV Süd manager Holger Lindner. However, many companies do not see a business model at the moment. However, that should change soon, the management consultants at EY expect. Every second company expects to be able to reduce its storage and transport costs through 3D printing in three years. “Every aerospace, consumer goods and chemical company plans for the future with 3D printing,” says the study.