New technology, new materials, more integration and improved software – 3D printing has seen some exciting new developments recently.
James Hunt is Head of Strategy Additive Manufacturing (AM), University of Sheffield AMRC. He reckons that AM has been considered a stand-alone process…until now.
There’s an increasing activity around the printing of biomaterials, with research teams in the USA and UK striving to be the first to print viable human organs using hydrogels to form tissue scaffolds.
In terms of metals, disruptive technologies, including Digital Alloys Joule Printing and MELD Manufacturing, are being developed. These have the potential to deposit large amounts of material quickly while overcoming some issues with compatibility and residual stress.
We are seeing greater capability in software, with companies such as Siemens, Autodesk and Dassault Systèmes developing the capability to design components in the CAD environment; create topology optimized solutions; prepare the build file; simulate the build process; and plan the toolpath for material removal.
In terms of manufacturing products, the foremost developments are in the medical and aerospace sectors:
In the medical field, the ability to produce patient-specific implants and devices has long been promised, and now with increased software capability for CAD generation and manipulation, along with a broader range of compatible materials, it is possible. This ranges from orthodontic aligners custom-printed by any number of dental technicians, through to global medical company Stryker which is producing thousands of titanium implants from a fleet of AM machines.
In the aerospace sector, major players are investing in R&D and pre-production facilities, with parts now trickling through on to engines and airframes.
GE is probably leading the way on this, certainly based on the number of parts on platforms. Building on their experience with the fuel nozzle on the LEAP engine, they are now planning on including a total of 304 metal AM parts on each of their next generation GE9X engines, across seven components including critical parts such as turbine blades.
A New Era
Eric Bredin, Vice President, Stratasys, says the technology is now replacing injection molding and milling for low-to-mid volume runs.
This is opening up a new era of mass-customization, as manufacturers can now cost-effectively produce volumes of personalized parts where the business case simply didn’t exist.
Material development is key, as high-performance industries require stringent certification of parts.
For example, Stratasys ULTEM 9085 resin material is compliant to flame, smoke and toxicity, which has led to the likes of Airbus and Boeing producing, certifying and fitting more 3D printed parts within aircraft cabins than ever before.
Last year Stratasys unveiled Layered Powder Metallurgy, its proprietary metal AM technology for short-run metal applications. It also announced its entry into stereolithography AM with the V650 Flex 3D printer, a large-scale, industrial-grade system configurable for fine-tuning across a range of resins.
Bredin says more companies are now turning to AM for components for airplanes and trains no longer in production:
Our customer Airbus is a great example: to meet the production delivery deadlines of its A350 XWB aircraft, the company leveraged our fused deposition modelling (FDM) technology to manufacture over 1,000 parts flying today.
In motorsport, McLaren F1, PENSKE and Andretti Autosport are using FDM and PolyJet technology in race cars.
Claudia Jordan, spokesperson for EOS believes automated and connected AM systems will eventually form a key part of the intelligent factory.
When you connect systems, you begin to see huge productivity gains and improved quality control. There is now the possibility to automate the entire process chain.
EOS recently introduced EOS Aluminum AlF357 for applications requiring a light metal with excellent mechanical/thermal strength. Last year it expanded its portfolio of Direct Metal Laser Sintering systems with its EOS M 300-4 for the aerospace, industrial, medical, tooling and automotive sectors. It also ran a pilot project with Premium AEROTECH and Daimler to develop a fully digital next-generation production line producing automotive and aerospace components.
The production process was operated without personnel, from an autonomous control station, supported by a digital twin of the factory which could be accessed remotely. It showed a reduction in cost per part of 50%, demonstrating the significant potential impact of automated AM.
What of the Future?
Hunt believes some of the emerging technologies are 3D printing of human organs, 3D printed drugs, nanoscale printing and even 4D printing.
But these are all 10 years or more away from achieving productivity. Nearer term we will see improved software capability and further integration of the digital workflow as part of the industrial digitalization landscape and a broader range of materials becoming available with a specific nod towards sustainable materials through the use of increased recycled content.