Award-winning OEM GE Additive has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the New South Wales (NSW) Government in Australia to develop a 3D printing aerospace centre at the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are scaling their adoption of 3D printing technology, especially in the construction sector
Few industries are witnessing widespread adoption of 3D printing technology, which represents only 0.1 percent of the total $13.1 trillion value added through the global manufacturing industry.
Advisory firm Moody’s Investors Service says that 3D printing technology is used in niche applications and will help boost companies’ profitability and market shares in a limited number of industries.
Manufacturers of consumer goods such as eyewear and footwear are among the industries with the strongest near-term growth prospects for the adoption of 3D printing. Other industries that will benefit include aerospace, medical devices, automotive and capital equipment, but to varying degrees, according to Moody’s report.
Recently, many new 3D software startup companies entered the market offering various solutions mainly for industrial users. It goes from decision-support solutions for better utilization of 3D printing, generative design/topology optimization, to workflow management and parts IP protection. Each of them seems to be focused on specific challenges heavy users face, challenges that will only increase in the foreseeable future as 3D printing moves from prototyping to manufacturing.
Why is there a need for such 3D software solutions and what are the gaps they are trying to fill? And where does it position the large software conglomerates that have been the main players in the market for many years? Let’s understand the bigger picture first.
You’ve probably heard of the technology hype cycle, which goes like this: Something new is developed and everybody thinks it’s going to change the world, but it falls short so everybody gives up on it. Finally, when nobody’s looking, the real potential slowly develops.
Over the years I’ve followed 3D printing through the first two stages: “It changes everything!” and then “It’s a complete dud!”
Now, judging from a conference going on at Dartmouth College right now, 3D printing is moving into the third stage: “Sometimes it’s very useful in ways we didn’t expect.”
Additive manufacturing is no longer just for prototypes. Its increasing popularity and technical capabilities have pushed it into position to change the way manufacturers manage their spare parts inventory.
No matter how technologies change, or what new innovations break into the mainstream, the basic goals of manufacturing remain the same: Reduce unplanned downtime, reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary waste, etc. How fortunate it is that 3D printing (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) is one of those cool, innovative technologies that is finding itself a very nice spot in the realm of day-to-day cost and time savings. Not only can it be used to produce interesting and previously impossible designs, it has also become a useful way to change spare parts management.
When a system goes down, making the repairs needed to get it back up and running can be time-consuming. Even more so if the part that needs replacing is no longer readily available. With the right program in place, additive manufacturing can build that part on demand—whether through reverse engineering, digital files from the component supplier, or perhaps through the supplier itself.
In recent years, advances in the printing technology, in the materials that can be used, and the software control of the end-to-end workflow have fundamentally changed the way parts can be made with additive manufacturing, says John Nanry, co-founder and chief product officer at Fast Radius, which provides 3D printing services.
3D printing continues to displace traditional manufacturing methods
Computer 3D printing (3DP) is being widely adopted in high-volume industrial sectors such as aerospace, automotive, healthcare and defense. Universities and other educational institutions also have incorporated 3DP into their technical training programs.
“3DP addresses the issues of cost, weight and reliability,” says Debbie Naguy, chief of the Product Support Engineering Division at the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in Dayton, Ohio. “It is prevalent everywhere, from aviation to automotive.”
3D printing is also called additive manufacturing (AM). Traditional manufacturing starts with a slab of material and eliminates whatever is unnecessary to form an object, creating waste that carries financial and environmental consequences. Additive manufacturing, by contrast, layers powdered alloys to build a three-dimensional object. The improved accuracy, enhanced product design and shorter time to market demonstrably lower costs. Leftover material can be reused. AM requires design to be done on computers, so it can be uploaded to the 3D printers.
elix Printers has launched the Pro 3, L and XL platforms for industrial production applications to meet the changing needs of the industry.
The shift of the manufacturing workflow to incorporate additive manufacturing in many industrial sectors has led 3D printingmanufacturer, Felix Printers, to develop products and features to serve the changing needs of industry, paying careful attention to detail and listening to customers. The Pro 3, L and XL platforms for industrial production applications were launched end 2018. According to Felix Printers, Pro 3 integrates seamlessly into industrial workflows, be it in the office, workshop, laboratory or factory environment. The 3D printer produces optimised print results repeatably. The L and XL platforms are for greatly increased build volumes of up to 144 litres. Pro L is said to be able to build parts of up to 300 x 400 x 400 mm (11.8 x 15.75 x 15.75 in.), while Pro XL has a build chamber of 600 x 400 x 600 mm (23.62 x 15.75 x 23.62 in.), Felix explains.
According to the company, the larger systems incorporate highly engineered print chambers, which incorporate an enclosed warm zone and a cold zone, to ensure quality and reliability. The warm zone supports consistent temperature control during the build, which is particularly important when printing materials with a high shrinkage factor, such as ABS, carbon fiber or nylon. In contrast, the cool zone is where the electronics are housed, which prevent overheating and subsequent machine/build failure.
When Wärtsilä Marine Solutions took the decision to utilize additive manufacturing to create a vital component for an inert gas system, initial production prototypes displayed an unexpected characteristic. In this new field, with new potential, DNV GL’s established expertise was on hand to help. Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has the potential to transform the maritime equipment supply chain. With the adoption of technology enabling printing in metal, vital spare parts and system components can now be printed on demand in locations around the world, including on vessels themselves. The result is dramatically reduced lead times, costs, labour needs, stock requirements and environmental impact, as well as the complete disruption of traditional business models.
And that’s just the supply side. The impact on manufacturing capability is just as radical. Suddenly the constraints of traditional processes can be broken, with machines bringing previously impossible designs to life through the precise application of layer upon layer of metals. For the frontrunners in maritime manufacturing, such as Wärtsilä Moss AS, it represents a special kind of magic.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has the potential to transform the maritime equipment supply chain. With the adoption of technology enabling printing in metal, vital spare parts and system components can now be printed on demand in locations around the world, including on vessels themselves. The result is dramatically reduced lead times, costs, labour needs, stock requirements and environmental impact (with less logistics and less waste), as well as the complete disruption of traditional business models.
And that’s just the supply side. The impact on manufacturing capability is just as radical. Suddenly the constraints of traditional processes can be broken, with machines bringing previously impossible designs to life through the precise application of layer upon layer of metals. For the frontrunners in maritime manufacturing, such as Wärtsilä Moss AS (a division of Wärtsilä Marine Solutions), it represents a special kind of magic.
“We came up with a new design that could only be realized with AM fabrication,” he explains. “The geometry of the part, the complexity involved in producing it, makes it far too difficult and expensive to manufacture using traditional methods. It can only be brought to life with AM.”
It’s not clear whether the additive manufacturing supply chain will expand rapidly enough to meet growing demand for 3D-printed parts for spacecraft or launch vehicles.
When companies are starting out, it’s easy for them to turn to additive manufacturing service providers for a few parts, said Scott Killian, aerospace business development manager for EOS North America. “Once companies move into production, they’re going to have to figure out whether the supply chain can still meet their needs,” he added. “There’s a lot of ebb and flow right now on getting that supply chain to ramp up.”
Many space companies work directly with EOS, a German manufacturer of 3D printing machines, or print parts on EOS equipment operated by additive manufacturing service providers. The only rocket customer Killian can discuss is Launcher. The New York company developing a 3D-printed copper bi-metal engine has agreed to a joint marketing campaign with EOS.