Good opinion piece from Rob Enderle
Last week, I was in Spain with HP and much of the conversation was on how 3D printers were going to disrupt and revolutionize manufacturing. However, underneath all of the discussions was a growing concept that the factory itself, as these 3D printers advance and become more capable, would evolve into a huge and vastly more capable 3D printer. Except, rather than printing parts, these huge printers would print things like fully capable automobiles. Granted, we are likely a couple of decades out but talk about disruptive technology revolutions this could be a massive game changer because it anticipates a time when, rather than regional warehouses, Amazon might have regional mega printers.
Let’s talk about that this week.
Evolution of 3D Printers
Until recently, 3D printers were more of a science experiment than an actual tool. The parts, while physically representative, weren’t very robust or, if they were robust, they cost more than most other manufacturing methods. HP’s Jet Fusion printers changed that by producing parts that were about 1/10th the cost of aluminum, had similar strength, but came in around 1/10th the weight as well. Suddenly, we had 3D printers that could produce parts that were arguably better than traditionally produced parts and, rather than being more expensive, they were significantly less expensive.
For the oil and gas industry, digitalisation is much more than automation, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. It’s the opportunity to reimagine the design, manufacturing and operation of the assets and technology, leading to expansive breakthroughs in safety, efficiency and performance.
Nowhere is this promise more evident than in additive manufacturing (AM). More commonly known as 3D printing, AM will provide oil and gas companies with the power to transform how parts are created and optimised. The ability to fabricate parts on-demand stands to upend established and often inefficient supply chain models, reducing costs and opening the door for innovation.
Radical change is coming. The successes of early adopters, coupled with the wealth of expertise and resources now available, gives little reason for companies to press pause on starting their AM journeys. The barriers to entry have never been lower – and the rewards so high.
The history of the Oberle shoe company began more than 150 years ago. In 1859, the great-great grandfather of Oberle’s current General Manager, Achim Oberle, opened a cobbler’s shop in Ettenheim that made shoes for customers in town and the surrounding areas. In 2006, the company began specializing in “Healthy Shoes.” And today, it’s recognized as a leader in the orthopedic footwear technology space. The company saves a lot of time and money by using the German RepRap X350pro 3D printer.
Oberle – Gesunde Schuhe is a specialty manufacturer that develops products for everything associated with legs, feet, and/or extremities. Behind its products is a highly technical process. The so-called 3D posture analysis (which involves 3D measurements of whole body posture), as well as the 3D walking analysis (which measures gait, body angles, and forces), have long been standard procedures for this company. To stay on the cutting edge of the industry, Oberle – Gesunde Schuhe must continuously employ state-of-the-art technologies as they become available.
Chanel Parfums Beauté, the cosmetics unit of the famous French design house, has turned to 3D printing for the production of an unlikely item: a mascara brush. In partnership with France-based Erpro 3D Factory, Chanel says it will begin manufacturing mascara brushes on an industrial scale using 3D printing.
When applying mascara, one might not think twice about the wand they unscrew from the bottle and lightly drag across their eyelashes. The truth is, however, that a ton of engineering and testing has gone into that seemingly simple object before it was put into production, marketed, and ultimately purchased.
From being eye-friendly, safe, effective, and even aesthetically pleasing, a lot goes in to making a mascara brush, which is why Chanel became interested in exploring 3D printing technologies for their production.
Local manufacturing is not a new concept, but advancements in technology and design mean that now more than ever, it is a viable option – especially when it comes to disaster recovery and helping war and weather-torn areas. Field Ready’s Eric James talks about how creating supplies-in-the-field can make all the difference when responding to humanitarian crises.
In regions where something as simple as an umbilical cord clamp or a plastic u-bend can help save lives, local manufacturing can have a hugely positive impact. Hard to reach areas stricken by disaster, conflict and extreme poverty can be slow to receive emergency aid and broken or non-existent supply chains often mean that people in these areas don’t have the equipment they need when or where they need it.
Access to the right technology can circumvent these supply chain problems and can mean the difference between waiting weeks and sometimes months for medical equipment, power or clean water to having systems up and running in a day or even less. But local manufacturing isn’t just about the technology. It’s about putting the people – the communities – first, focusing on the actual support they need on the ground. We can then apply design thinking and other methods to map the technology best suited to meeting their needs and alleviating their suffering as quickly as possible – not the other way around.
The automotive industry is in a state of flux. Significant swings in gas prices, as well as environmental and political pressures, challenge the industry to balance between the economics of gas guzzling SUVs and lightweight electric vehicles. Ride-sharing and shared ownership business models are gaining momentum, and leaps in technology have put autonomous vehicles on the road, changing the way we view our use of cars. Automotive manufacturers must adapt to all that change, whilst also facing the age-old challenge of minimizing p roduction costs. Scott Sevcik, VP Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys, considers 3D printing – the definition of disruptive technology – and its role supporting the automotive industry as it adjusts to a new reality.
The automotive industry was one of the first to really grasp the benefits of 3D printing. Long used as a tool for rapid prototyping, it was this industry that led high-end 3D printer and material sales in recent years, but this was often kept under wraps as cagey design studios withheld their secret weapon. By slashing design costs and timescales, even contributing to better design by enabling adaptations on the fly with multiple iterations in a matter of hours, 3D printing has made a significant contribution to the automotive design process. As the technology and materials continue to advance even further, it’s a trend set to stay for the foreseeable future.
The U.S. Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) is ramping up production of 3D printed parts.
System Command estimates that it will have approximately 1,000 3D printed parts approved for use across the fleet before the end of 2018. Currently only 135 3D printed parts are authorised for use.
3D printing helmets to flight-critical parts
3D printed parts will be used in a range of Naval applications, from modifications to helmets to critical parts for aircraft: NAVAIR categorizes parts depending on their air-worthiness. Parts not requiring airworthiness can be fabricated more quickly.
In 2016 NAVAIR proved that 3D printing could be used to produce safety-critical parts with the successful flight of an MV-22B Osprey, fitted with a 3D printed titanium engine nacelle link and attachment. Last spring, a 3D printed flip-top valve was added to the T-45 Goshawk breathing mask, allowing pilots in training to breathe cabin air up to a certain altitude. 300 valves were printed within a month without which training would have been impossible.
Achieving the highest quality standards is crucial in the aviation industry, where even the smallest of defects can have serious consequences. Besides the expansion of e-mobility, one of the most important recent developments in this field is the ability to produce components using additive manufacturing.
This is particularly beneficial in the aviation sector, where every single gram of weight saved can reduce flight operating costs. This is why toolcraft not only produces aircraft parts conventionally using CNC machining, but employs additive manufacturing processes as well. The company covers the complete process chain, from design and manufacture to quality assurance and testing. 3D metal printing has been an established manufacturing technique in its own right for many years, having successfully made the transition from being used for prototype production. Nadcap certification of the process is a further milestone in its development.
3D printing for the maritime and energy industries is the focus of NAMIC’s 5th additive manufacturing summit later this month.
Taking place in Singapore, the Maritime and Energy AM Summit is organized by the country’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC), an organization focused on developing a collaborative and innovative ecosystem for additive manufacturing.
At the event 3D printing experts will gather to discuss operationalising AM, how 3D printing is revolutionising the energy industry, the future of advanced manufacturing and other related topics.
I caught up with two of the experts presenting work at the NAMIC AM summit to learn more.