A few years ago, says Tim Shinbara, vice president of technology at the Association for Manufacturing Technology, AM was no more than an attraction in the Emerging Technology Center at IMTS. But it made its way to the main show floor.
At the present time, AM/3-D printing is marginal for most industrial applications, but highly used in medical, and growing in aerospace and automotive. However, its industrial use has gained significance, and this year was the first time that AM has its own pavilion at IMTS.
Many more industries are now turning to the technology for prototyping and tooling applications. But Shinbara believes that as process stability and material offerings improve, the demand from heavy equipment, automotive and aerospace manufacturers will increase.
He also suggests that there is a trend in the U.S. toward the use of AM for large components, in the construction, heavy equipment and transportation sectors.
He notes the case of the LM3D car from U.S.-based Local Motors. About three-quarters of the vehicle is printed using a blend of 80% ABS plastic and 20% carbon fiber. The company aims to produce 90% of the car in a single piece through 3-D printing.
Richard Martukanitz, director of the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D) at Penn State University, says that although AM technology is in its infancy, the list of potential applications is growing quickly.