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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Сompetitiveness of MAM

It is an undisputed fact that SMEs are basic elements that constituents the backbone of the global economy and playing a vital role in regional, national, and global economies and significantly affecting growth and wealth of a nation. Statistics reveal that SMEs represent 90% of businesses, more than 60-70% of employment, and 55% of GDP in developed economies.

It is commonly agreed that the global competition is getting fierce, especially for those Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs). Lack of finance, infrastructure, network connections, knowledge and production facilities are just some challenges SMEs face on a daily base. The countermeasures at SMEs for sustaining in such competitive area are continuously increased responsiveness, agility, sustainability, and supply resilience for tackling current global business challenges. An increasing number of SMEs is seen to focus on lowering the cost which necessitating to benefit from advancement in technological development.  Unfortunately, even more SMEs are missing out new opportunities with lost value and competition as consequence. To date, the gap between SMEs with modernizing technological oriented value proposition to those are conservative grows rapidly.

Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) is one of these technical advancements which are receiving exponentially growing attention and has been associated with potentially strong stimuli for revenues and cost saving. Advantages of the MAM techniques are many, and main drivers for increased application are  increased design freedom, reduce production and logistics waste, promoting digitalization in manufacturing system and their corresponding economic gains to a large extent.  As shown in Figure 1, the global MAM market has been steadily increased in 2016-2019 and it is expecting significant growth  towards 2024, An estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is  27.9% and it is predicted that MAM will evolve from being a prototyping tool to become one of the main technologies in manufacturing business.

However, fully benefitting from these techniques are challenging, and not least, very costing.  The most of MAM concurrent application is therefore on high value product for niche markets, i.e., aerospace and defense, automobile, and medical sectors, as shown in Figure 2. Trends and opportunities found within the aerospace and automobile industry are easy to justify, such as light weighting objectives, topology optimization and reduction of waste, while in the medical sector has seen different uses such as utilizing the techniques towards customized implant design, prosthetics and mechanical bone replicas.

Figure 2 shows also several other industrial sectors (i.e., oil and gas, mechanical and automation and energy) have signed up for MAM. With continuous development of technologies in MAM and those that enabling its adoption, it is confident to predict that MAM will have profound impact on how manufacturing industry conducts production activities and potential savings it can bring to total supply chain costs. In short, the adoption of MAM will significantly influence global manufacturing SMEs in terms of competitiveness, profitability, and sustainability.

However, benefiting from MAM is particularly a challenge to SMEs. This challenge is even severe for those operating in sparsely populated regions that suffer from a reduced regional employment (comparing with central regions), lower job attractiveness for young people, geographical seclusion from major markets, and a lower capital turnover rate. As MAM is expected to become future-oriented technologies in maintaining business advantage and increasing competitiveness of SMEs, assisting SMEs with a clear roadmap for the purpose of motivating and facilitating their adoption of MAM so that they can be fully benefited becomes an emergent task.