Patents and additive manufacturing. Trends in 3D printing technologies

Additive manufacturing (AM), more commonly known as 3D printing, is radically changing the way in which products are made. Manufactured objects have been produced for centuries using the same conventional processes, such as forging, casting and machining. AM offers a new approach, whereby thin layers of material are deposited one on top of another until a complete three-dimensional object is formed. This new approach is compatible with a large variety of materials, from metals to living cells, and has a wide range of potential industrial applications.

AM is primarily a digital technology, and as such one of the key drivers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (EPO, 2017). 3D printed objects are the physical avatars of digital models that allow for highly sophisticated shapes or geometries. These models can be instantly diffused at virtually no cost, enabling the local fabrication of small volumes. They can also be modified, allowing in turn for the mass-customisation of 3D printed objects.

As the technology matures, it is estimated that AM could capture 5% or more of the global EUR 10.7 trillion (USD 12 trillion) manufacturing industry. While originally used for prototyping, its value is now seen in making industrial manufacturing more efficient, by using fewer resources while making it easier, cheaper and faster to build complex shapes and custom one-off designs. AM has the potential to redesign entire industry value chains, and will oblige companies to rethink their distribution models and to adapt to new forms of competition, while facing the challenge of creating appropriate legal frameworks to safeguard competition.

This study provides a comprehensive picture of current trends and emerging leaders in AM technologies. Drawing on the latest patent information from the European Patent Office (EPO), it gives a unique insight into AM innovation, and informs users of the patent system and policy-makers about AM’s impact on industry.

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Original source study: European Patent Office