3D printing and rapid prototyping technologies have become more and more prominent over the past few years, with newer materials and processes expanding the capabilities & lowering the cost to a point where small businesses and even individual consumers can now afford to create their own 3D objects.
Unlike conventional manufacturing technologies such as casting, forging and milling, the 3D selective laser melting technology allows the most complex metal components to be produced layer by layer, driven directly from CAD data. Since all the articles are built by successively adding highly thin metal powder layers that are completely molten by a focused laser beam, the desired form of 3D geometry can be realised. Over the last decade, AM has become a burgeoning industry, enabling the rapid prototyping of components for automotive, medical and electronic applications.
In recent times, the use of 3D printing has significantly increased with most of the industry adopting this technology at their shop floors. Additionally, 3D printing has also made inroads into various households for personal use. According to ABI Research, the global market for 3D printing systems, services and materials will grow to reach $782.6 million by 2013.
3D printing is expanding its horizons—a trend that is likely to continue in the future. Some of the most promising areas include medical applications, custom parts replacement and customised consumer products. As materials improve and costs reduce, other applications that we can barely imagine today will become a reality. Perhaps the greatest area of growth for 3D printing is in the medical field. However, its growth in other avenues such as consumer durables, electrical & electronics, aerospace and other engineering component industry cannot be ruled out.
Image Courtesy: Econolyst
3D modelling and analysis software is changing the way companies innovate and manufacture. Digital Prototyping (DP) is being used to build, test, simulate and optimize the process, from design to production. Additive Manufacturing (AM) relies heavily on its direct link to CAD design, and therefore, state-of-the-art software that expands the possibilities in digital manufacturing is key to growth in the emerging world of 3D manufacturing.
3D printers are less costly variations of Rapid Prototyping (RP) technology that are positioned as a design tool to create inexpensive models early in the design process. Physical models produced on 3D printers allow the design team to review the concepts. This, in turn, ensures that the company gets better feedback, thereby resulting in a better product. 3D printing also offers companies the scope to achieve real-time collaboration on a global scale.
Advantages of 3D Printing
- 3D printing can help you quickly fine-tune designs
- Identify design errors earlier
- Reduce travel to production facilities
- 3D printing provides a highly cost-efficient means of production
- Cut traditional prototyping and tooling costs
- Less waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods
- A variety of resins and waxes can be applied to the completed model.
- A two part urethane can be added to the model
- Product can be manufactured in home
Because of 3D Printing’s quality to manufacture part layer by layer it can produce almost all the complex part. This has attracted many sectors from medical to aerospace to architecture. Here is few sectors that are using 3D printing in full throttle.
Engineering: Engineers always need to create prototypes of the products or designs they are working on. Earlier, the process of creating prototypes would take weeks and required the use of a lot of manpower as it involved the cutting & piecing together of paper, wood and other materials to create the prototype. But now, thanks to 3D printing, engineers only need to create a 3D graphic image of the design they are working on and have it made using a 3D printer.
Architecture: Just like engineers, architects too need to create mock-ups of their designs. 3D printers allow them to come up with these mock-ups in a short period of time and with a higher degree of accuracy. These 3D models also make it easier to visualise a design.
Jewelry: The jewelry industry was one of the first industries to use 3D printing in their ‘investment casting’ process. However, instead of metal printers, they use wax here, i.e., the piece of jewelry is sculpted or printed out of wax. Plaster is then poured on either side, while molten metal is poured onto the wax, which melts, leaving behind a metal version of the wax sculpt in the plaster. The jewelry piece is then finished and polished by a jeweler. Many independent jewelers have been using high tech printers in their businesses.
Medicine & implants: There are many medical cases where surgical procedures can be a ‘touch-and-go’ phenomenon. They can be so complicated that a single error can fatal for a patient. In the light of this, 3D printing has turned out to be a boon. Many surgeons have now started practicing upon the 3D renderings of the part of their patient’s body before actually performing on them. This not only boosts their confidence, but also increases their chances of success in an operation. Additionally, rapid prototyping has several uses in the medical sector including making models of actual bones so that surgeons can practice complicated procedures upon them.
Prototypes: 3D printing technology has found major applicability in product development prototyping. These machines allow designers and engineers to test ideas for dimensional products at a low cost before committing to expensive tooling and manufacturing processes.
Components manufacturing: In some industries, 3D printing has replaced traditional manufacturing to produce a gamut of products. The technology is being successfully used for manufacturing small components in every industry. Gradually, as the demand from automobile, aerospace, medical equipment, electrical, energy and other such industries grows, companies will use 3D printing to manufacture bigger and more complex components.
Aerospace: There are many complex part that are been manufactured by 3D printing. Global giant such as Boeing, Airbus, GE, etc are on advance stage to manufacture part by 3D printing. A recent example, GE, the world’s largest supplier of jet engines, is preparing to produce a fuel nozzle for a new aircraft engine by printing the part with lasers rather than casting and welding the metal.
Before we look at the technical aspects of Additive Manufacturing (AM) in detail, we must take a broad view of the difficulties that AM faces as a revolutionary tool in the spheres of technology, business and culture. AM is not just a technology, it is also a fundamental shift from the way designing and manufacturing have usually been done till now.
A majority of designers have grown in an environment of traditional manufacturing methods, influenced and limited in their design by conventional processes. This not only limits the kind of products that can be manufactured, but also makes manufacturers and designers reluctant to eagerly embrace additive technologies. AM is in a unique position where the technology is way ahead of the design software available for it.
Then there is the need to develop a wider variety of materials and properties for AM. The technology needs to be made suitable for industrial production to handle huge volumes, bulky parts under stringent quality standards. Businesses need to look less at AM as a means to effectively market products for broad applications, and more to leverage the unique capabilities of AM in specialized applications, like hearing implants.
There are two major barriers to the increased adoption of AM; a perception of high costs, ie, heavy capital associated with the technology, and the second is lack of education or awareness of the available techniques & capabilities of various additive machines. Apart from these looming obstacles, there are technical challenges, such as challenges in material, equipment, cost, methodology and applications, which need to be overcome for AM to realise its potential.
Developing the Materials: Although AM uses an extensive variety of materials and material combinations, there is still a need for more materials and greater variety.
Production Methodology: The challenge here is to develop monitoring systems, closed-loop feedback systems and in-process evaluation methods for AM processes. This would enable reliable, consistent and uniform production of AM parts.
Bulk Manufacturing: This is the biggest challenge in using AM. It is still not ready to be used for mass production.
Recently in 2012, an 83-year-old patient with a serious jaw infection became the first person to receive a completely 3D-printed titanium lower jaw implant. The combined effort by researchers and engineers from Belgium and the Netherlands is said to have allowed the patient unrestricted mandibular movement within a day of surgery. This perfectly exemplifies the kinds of changes 3D printing can bring in the medical and surgical industry.
Health care is one of the first industries that adopted Additive Manufacturing (AM). In recent years, it has been in the news for being successfully used in bone implants, dental implants, hearing aids, etc. In medical implants, all the products are different from each other; on a more sophisticated scale, medical devices like earpieces, dentures and replacement joints could be 3D printed, as most of these need to be customized.
The medical equipment industry needs precision as small and complex parts require high-quality machining technology. The quality that AM provides while producing products layer by layer is a key ingredient in the health care industry. It has many advantages in producing small and complex geometries.
The advantages are two-fold. First, a large proportion of medical devices are made in relatively low volumes, when compared to more traditional electronic and mechanical devices. Owing to this, AM represents a potentially cost-effective alternative for low-volume plastic and metal parts production.
Second, AM has the potential to personalize individual products according to patients’ requirements. This is less likely in diagnostic and monitoring applications, although both personalized implants and surgical guides are being used in surgical procedures. More recently, surgical devices are also being personalized according to surgeons’ requirements. We also have a host of patient-specific medical devices—from prosthetic limbs and orthotic shoe insoles to rehabilitation splints.
In 3D printing technology, the additive method of production has been adopted. The conventional method of production where materials are cut, torn, chiselled, etc. to transform them into a defined object is termed subtractive, since a waste of a large or small fraction of materials cannot be avoided. AM has proved beneficial in the following areas of medical equipment manufacturing:
Custom or standard implants and instrumentation: Orthopaedic, Cranial and Maxillofacial (CMF) implants can be produced using AM technology. Examples include acetabular cups, trauma fixation plates, spinal components and CMF plates. In addition to prototyping and serial production of standard components, custom prostheses can be manufactured through seamless integration between the digital design and digital production stages.
Porous bone scaffolds enabling osseointegration: Artificial bone replacement materials can be produced accurately using CAD designs. Strut widths down to 100 μm can be realised, with pore diameters down to 250 μm. By designing the actual porosity and producing scaffolds using the selective laser melting technology, highly consistent and repeatable mechanical properties and dimensions are realised.
Dental implant bars and bridges: Since AM enables complex, patientspecific design, it is the preferred choice for the production of dental prostheses. DentWise implant bars and bridges achieve a fit accuracy of more than 20 μm at the implant interface and may integrate complex surface textures and sealing edges.
Some say that if Apollo 13 had a 3D printer on board, it would have radically changed the approach taken to fix the carbon dioxide filtering system. 3D designs could have been sent from ground control to space, where astronauts could directly use them to manufacture the required part in space itself! The possibilities of AM seem limitless as it finds itself emerging in numerous specialized applications.
If there are any doubts about whether AM is the future of manufacturing, they would fade in the light of the achievements of AM. NASA is committed to bringing a 3D printer onto the space station by 2014. Boeing has made over 20,000 parts using 3D printers that have been used in military aircraft, and there has not been a single part failure so far. When thinking of AM in space, few things immediately come to mind. The need for such technology is apparent as we attempt to support longer and longer human exploration missions.
The aim is to gradually widen the radius of exploration by increasing the self-sustaining ability of such missions, reducing their dependence on maintaining a link for re-supply with the Earth. AM is one such solution for space exploration, because it provides on-demand chip-less fabrication of parts, tools, components, be it for replacement, maintenance or repair. Due to the nature of the way it uses material, every part it makes can be recycled to provide stock for more parts. It reduces the tremendous cost & time to transport and manufacture space parts, economises payloads & occupies smaller volumes than traditional machines.
An AM start-up in the US, has pioneered and tested additive technologies (in zero gravity), like 3D printing, for use in outer space. They have demonstrated, proved and propagated the advantages of 3D printing from its reduced material wastage, its ability to build complex geometries to its immediate production time and reduced need for human involvement. They printed the first tool made in partial zero gravity, a scaled-down wrench. AM is being seriously seen as an ideal manufacturing technology for space.
GE, the world’s largest supplier of jet engines, is preparing to produce a fuel ...
AM is becoming extremely important for the automotive industry. Almost all the major automobile manufacturesr are unsing 3D printer in their shop floor. Time and cost reductions in production are making this generative technology increasingly attractive to the automakers. Companies have realised the advantages such as cost reduction and freedom in design. The technology is been mainly used in manufacturing engine component.