3D printing has come a long way from its origins in the 1980s, with a brief entry into the consumer space galvanizing its growth in the earlier part of the decade. Now, it seems as though mass production with additive manufacturing (AM) technology is just around the corner, as a number of companies introduce methods for batch 3D printing.
To learn how the AM space will change in the next year, engineering.com got feedback from several experts in the space, including those from exciting new startups that will break onto the scene in 2019.
Additive manufacturing aligns with the needs of the automotive industry, driving advances in vehicle design. Serial production is a reality today in additive manufacturing (or 3-D printing) as the technologies under this umbrella have advanced to a point where end-use parts can be made of both metal and plastic materials, ready to be put to use in real-world environments. The automotive industry has been a major adopter, with automotive OEMs among the first to install 3-D printers — some 30 years ago, in fact, Ford purchased the third 3-D printer ever made.
A 2014 Deloitte study pointed to two major areas of influence for 3-D printing in automotive applications: as a source of product innovation and as a driver of supply chain transformation. Over the past nearly half-decade, these predictions have shown to be spot-on as new vehicle models come out faster and sleeker, with digital supply chains reshaping logistics.
Some of the best-known benefits of additive manufacturing align precisely with what automotive OEMs are looking to deliver: faster development cycles, part consolidation, lightweighting, new and custom geometries.
Car radars, 5G communication systems and satellite-based atmospheric sensors could all be improved as a result of a UK project to develop 3D printed terahertz and microwave circuits.
Although 3D printing is widely used in many areas of manufacturing, its use in microwave and terahertz circuits has so far been limited by the level of precision required to build devices at such a small scale.
However, the accuracy of 3D printers has significantly improved in recent years, with some now able to print down to a resolution of five microns or less, according to Michael Lancaster at Birmingham University, who is leading the EPSRC-funded project.