Industrial 3D Printing
Andrey Radchenko © nordroden @ stock.adobe.com
Better, Faster, Stronger, and More Customizable Manufacturing Procedures
Among the Fortune 500 ranking list of the world's largest corporations in 2020, there are at least nine companies that have been pioneering the use of industrial 3D printing in sectors such as: aerospace (Airbus), automotive (Volkswagen), oil & gas (ExxonMobil), energy (Equinor), consumer goods (L'Oréal), healthcare (Medtronic), railway (Deutsche Bahn), industrial goods (Caterpillar), and chemical (BASF).
Some of the reasons why such companies are adopting 3D printing as a method of industrial production are that the technology offers new ways to improve manufacturing processes, while proposing novel ways to develop business models and innovation. The complexity of design that 3D printing encompasses enables industries to rapidly build prototypes and thus shorten timelines from months to under a week.
Likewise, according to Sculpteo's 2018 State of Industry Report, 52% of the companies that adopted 3D printing have the ability to reduce lead times as the technology requires no tooling. Finally, 3D printing can produce parts and goods from digital files in a matter of hours, meaning that companies are able to leverage new models of manufacturing after On-demand Economy approaches.
2021: The 4th Decade of 3D Printing
The world's first method of 3D printing, Stereo Lithography Appearance, was patented by Chuck Hall in 1986. Still in use today, Stereo Lithography Appearance uses galvanometers positioned on an X- and Y-axis to rapidly aim a solid-state laser beam across a vat of resin, selectively solidifying a cross-section of the object inside the area and building it up layer by layer. The process can achieve fine features in photopolymer resin, however because the materials are brittle they are unsuitable for mechanical or industrial parts.
More recently, processes such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Material Jetting, Binder Jetting, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Directed Energy Deposition (DED) have been developed to fabricate objects in full color and with complex geometries far beyond the capabilities of conventional manufacturing. Now, additive manufacturing on an industrial level produces objects made of plastics, powders, resins, metal, carbon fiber, graphite, and graphene, as well as nitinol and paper. 3D Slicer software is used to convert digital three dimensional models into stacks of horizontal layers to provide instructions for a 3D printer to fabricate an object on to 3D printing surfaces or even existing structures.
Using an open-source web interface, 3D printers can be controlled and monitored remotely from anywhere in the world. By adding cameras and Deep Learning, printing processes can be monitored for error detection and completed objects can be compared to digital models for analysis and quality control.
3D Food For Thought and Future Perspectives
In the near future, it is expected that the production of 3D-printed food, 3D-printed Architecture, and even the printing of organs through the assembling of biomaterials become an additional resource for industrial-level production. Such achievement would not only benefit sectors such as healthcare and the food industry, but also ignite improvements for 3D Modeling techniques simultaneously.
According to a report released by Materialise, 3D printing technology has reached forty years since its creation, however a revaluation of the manufacturing industry including 3D printing techniques has only occurred since the Covid-19 crisis began. It is, however, the climate crisis that has been pressing upon a sense of urgency for change in our economic and industrial systems.
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a promising approach when considering cases such as Airbus's, which is already working "to accelerate the development of hydrogen-powered commercial jets and skip over the development of hybrid engines entirely." Such a decision points out a scenario in which the first zero-emission, climate-neutral aircraft can be released by 2035.
And 3D printing has an important role in the process of facilitating such achievement because, according to Materialise, it "frees designers from the constraints and limitations of traditional manufacturing technologies, helping them to focus on the solution instead of the product. As a result, AM allows us to create performance, weight-saving, time and cost advantages.” This is possible because AM offers customization to the process, meaning that operators have the opportunity to fine-tune their creations with more freedom compared to traditional assembly lines.
While AM is still improving in terms of speed, price, and reliability, Materialise argues that 3D Printing techniques are already able to deliver short-term return of investment, low-cost manufacturing, and low risk in spite of its lengthy learning curve.