Explore the present and the potential of 3D printing technology – now. Powered by Northrop Grumman
Additive Manufacturing (AM) – more commonly known as 3D printing – has grown from a niche solution to a mainstay of the supply chain. As AMFG Note, the materials market for 3D printing technology alone is now worth over $ 1.5 billion and is poised to add another $ 4.5 billion in just five years. And according to a recent Ultimaker Pandemic pressures have also boosted interest in additive manufacturing, according to the survey, with 71% of companies now aware of the potential for 3D printing and 39% already adopting the technology.
But how did AM get started? How it works? What are we currently doing with 3D printed materials and what is on the horizon for this construction solution as we go along?
Make math work
While advances in 3D printing have come fast and furiously over the past few years, the underlying concept is more than three decades old. As American Society of Mechanical Engineers Note, the first 3D printing technology patent was filed in 1980 by Hideo Kodama, who developed a photopolymer-based printing system that used UV light to harden materials.
Although the idea for Kodama was never commercialized, it paved the way for advancement in the AM space. In 1983, Charles Hull created the first stereolithography (SLA) device, and he obtained the first SLA printing patent in 1986. In 1987, Carl Deckard patented the selective laser sintering (SLS) process, and in 1988, 3D Systems Company began selling the world’s first commercial rapid prototyping printer, known as SLA-1.
Rapid development followed. In 1999, the first 3D printed organ was used in transplant surgery, and in 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer created a self-replicating printing process to improve the output speed. In 2009, the price of 3D printers increased from $ 10,000 to $ 1,000. And in 2011, the University of Southampton printed the world’s first unmanned aircraft. Industry specialization then came with the creation of materials such as bio-ink for medical applications and thermoplastic polymers for aerospace. By 2019, the expiration of old patents combined with the rise of open source printing solutions blew the gates of development – today there are more than 170 3D printer manufacturers worldwide. , from home amateurs to multinationals.
Multiply the impact
The adjective “additive” in AM speaks of the nature of the 3D printing process. Where traditional manufacturing focuses on creating fully formed parts and objects, 3D printers apply the material layer by layer to produce the end result. While this typically results in slower production speeds, it allows for the creation of purpose-built objects that can be as complex – or as simple – as businesses require. In the case of aerospace development, for example, 3D printing helps reduce both weight and volume by printing contiguous pieces that fit into the fuselage or cockpits of aircraft like perfectly formed puzzle pieces.
However, like any commercial technology, there is always room for improvement. As 3D printing media note, one of the main printing priorities is speed. The faster devices can reliably print parts and products, the better the results for manufacturing companies. Typically measured in millimeters per hour, many SLA systems are capable of printing between 20 and 40 millimeters of material every 60 minutes. However, new developments offer the potential for production speeds of up to 65mm / hour and prototyping speeds of up to 100mm / hour – without compromising the form or function of the output parts.
New 3D printing materials are also in development that offer improved properties or unique compositions for specific applications. One area of interest is composite materials such as electrostatic dissipative polyetherketone ketone (ESD PEKK) – a thermoplastic that contains staple carbon fibers to help reduce the risk of unexpected static discharge in aerospace applications, providing thermal resistance. improved. Other areas of advancement include elastomeric materials that are both soft and flexible but strong and resistant, as well as high performance ceramics that offer increased strength as well as increased resistance to temperature and chemicals.
Explore exponential growth
It’s one thing to talk about materials and manufacturing time, but what are companies actually doing with 3D printing technologies? And what’s on the horizon? Here’s a look at some of the most exciting innovations in the AM market.
New materials such as PEKK ESD now allow aerospace manufacturing companies to create parts specifically designed to withstand the most inhospitable environments. Along with built-in static discharge capabilities, this advanced thermoplastic also features high thermal stability, minimal sensitivity to gamma radiation, and no outgassing. These characteristics make it ideal for vacuum space environments where even very thin degassing layers can lead to serious functional failures.
Biological materials often have unique properties that are not easily reproducible in artificial environments. A concrete example? Lobster shells.
As Daily Science Note, the spiral construction of the lobster shells provides high performance protection against predators and environmental forces. Now, researchers at RMIT University have created 3D printing materials that bio-mimic the spiral patterns of lobster shells and applied them to 3D concrete creations. The result? Overall durability and the ability to precisely reinforce concrete structures as needed.
Ultra-fast limb production
While 3D printed organs have become more common as manufacturing technology evolves, two common issues persist: speed and size. It makes sense; the smaller the organ, the easier and faster it is to print, while larger organs and limbs, such as legs, arms or hearts, are much more difficult to produce. However, according to Design News, significant progress is currently being made in this field thanks to the use of hydrogels – materials mainly made up of water and currently used to manufacture products such as contact lenses or gels for diapers.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo, co-led by Associate Professor Ruogang Zhao, have developed a 3D printing method to create life-size organs and limbs, like a human hand, in less than 20 minutes. While challenges remain around effective transplantation and integration into patient bodies, these biomedical miracles highlight a bright future for lightning-fast limb creation.
Knock closer to home
There is also a push to scale up additive manufacturing efforts even further by applying the concept to house building. As World of technological news note, this approach has substantial advantages. Construction times could be reduced from eight weeks to days, construction waste could be reduced by over 50%, and 3D printed houses could be built specifically to survive in specific environments. For example, 3D printed structures in China were designed to survive magnitude 8.0 earthquakes.
While this particular application remains on the not too distant horizon here in North America, AM-based residential construction has significant advantages, especially as construction and labor costs continue to rise. increase.
Gradually, layer by layer, 3D printing technology has evolved from a niche application to an international operation. And while there is still room to grow – from improved thermoplastics to printed dentures and high-speed home constructions – additive solutions now offer a way to multiply the impact of large-scale manufacturing.
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