3D printing increases efficiency and reduces waste, making it a valuable tool in efforts to make manufacturing more sustainable. Its applications range from medical devices to aerospace — and possibly even drinking water.
Earlier this month General Electric announced a project with the Department of Energy that uses 3D printed turbines in a process that could make desalinated seawater 20 percent less costly to produce.
The environmental and economic benefits of 3D printing have the potential to transform traditional manufacturing through cost reductions, energy saving and reduced CO2 emissions, according to a paper published last month in the journal Energy Policy. 3D printing can potentially reduce manufacturing costs by $170 billion to $593 billion, energy use by 2.54–9.30 exajoules (EJ) and CO2 emissions by 130.5 to 525.5 metric tons by 2025, the paper says. The range within the savings is due to the immature state of the technology and the associated uncertainties of predicting market developments.
Why marry 3D Printing with Topology Optimization?
3D printing gives engineers the freedom to design products that cannot be manufactured any other way.
The process of adding material, as opposed to subtracting material, allows for more intricate shapes. This has given engineers an unprecedented chance to design lighter, more organic looking products.
Historically, the way we make objects has influenced the way we design them. “When we use a traditional CAD to design a part, the CAD is based on Boolean operations or subtractive design,” said Jaideep Bangal, senior application engineer at solidThinking.
I recently took a trip to my local big box electronics store, and saw a 3D printer on display. I asked what they were printing, and the response was “plastic components”, which were being sold in the store. The salesperson was busy, so I did not have the chance to find out exactly what those plastic components were, but I thought, wow, they can make parts for sale right there in the store. Retail is changing for sure. I then decided to do a little more checking on 3D printers when I got home. I learned about biofabrication, a recently created word that means the convergence between technology and medicine, to print items to be used in the human body. Living cells are used as the “printer ink”. Visions of the Terminator came to mind. I also discovered, from an article the Guardian that the U. S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first 3D printed drug, called Spritam (levetiracetam). It controls seizures coming from epilepsy. The drug manufacturer, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, uses 3D printing to create a more porous pill. This means the pill dissolves more quickly with liquid, making it much easier for the patient to swallow higher doses.
Printing out your meal may not sound appealing, but 3D technology could revolutionize food manufacturing. There could come a day in the near future when it’s a tablet to table kind of lunch.
It’s Friday night and you want a pizza, but instead of calling the local pizzeria for delivery, you just print out your dinner. Think that sounds a bit too farfetched? Think again.
Foodini from Natural Machines is a 3D printing kitchen appliance that makes pizza, pasta, breads and cookies. It assembles layers of fresh ingredients to take a complex process, like making ravioli, and simplifies the steps, as well as easing the kitchen clean up which is a big value-add.
Initially targeting professional chefs, Natural Machines’ co-founder Lynette Kucsma envisions a time in the near future when a 3D food printer will be a common kitchen appliance. Foodini, which is currently available in limited production with general availability in 2016, will cost about $1,500, according to the Natural Machines website. And, as competitors hit the market and prices start to plummet, a 3D printer could be a convenient way for consumers to make healthy meals on-the-go rather than turning to highly-processed foods packaged for the microwave.
In 2013 3Discovered was founded to become the first independent online exchange platform to facilitate the buying, selling, and fabricating of commercial-grade 3-D printed parts and products.
“We were intrigued by the notion that 3-D printing makes it easy to split a transaction for an object into its physical component (fabrication) and its intellectual property component (design),” the company explains on its website.
“Combine that with other 3-D printing benefits such as making what’s needed, when needed, where needed, and the freedom to design without constraints, and we saw an opportunity. So we set out to integrate these features by combining software and business processes with a network of multiple service bureaus in a commercial-grade cloud-based exchange platform.”
The company says that it offers a solution for any supply chain impeded by minimum order quantities, aging inventories, “long tail” products, legacy machines and discontinued parts.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has the potential to revolutionize the U.S. military’s logistics system. But numerous hurdles stand in the way of that dream becoming reality, experts said.
Unlike the traditional manufacturing process, which creates items by taking raw materials and subtracting from them by drilling or whittling, additive manufacturing takes digital data and creates 3D objects by stacking printed layers of raw materials.
Brennan Hogan, a program manager at LMI — a Virginia-based not-for-profit corporation that is consulting with the Defense Logistics Agency about the implications of 3D printing — said additive manufacturing provides an opportunity for “turning the supply chain on its head.”
Put down your tools and throw away those molds — 3D printing means customized complex geometries can be produced en masse at a fraction of the cost.
From watch cases and spikes on running shoes, to rocket engine components and implants for the human body, 3D printers can be used to make virtually anything out of virtually anything. Materials are printed layer-by-layer into such intricate devices that designers and manufacturers are being forced to rethink their entire approach to construction.
3D printing is not just for tchotchkes anymore. Technological advancement paired with decreasing costs to build and/or purchase 3D printers create the perfect storm for the next industrial revolution. 3D printing technology will virtually transform the way companies conduct business, affecting manufacturing processes, disrupting the supply chain, and transforming primary and logistics businesses. Just as importantly, 3D printing, once it takes hold, will have substantial implications on intellectual property (“IP”): patents, copyrights and trademarks.
Analysts at Gartner predict that “[b]y 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.” Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2014 and Beyond, October 8, 2013. It is easy to imagine why. For example, today there are a number of “online maker sites.” On Shapeways, users can upload digital design files of products, which Shapeways uses to 3D print products and ship back to the users. Shapeways also hosts online “shops” for users to sell their 3D printed products. Through Thingiverse, users can download other users’ design files to print products or “remix” products by modifying a file or merging multiple files.
In 2013 researchers at Princeton University created a “bionic ear” – capable of detecting frequencies a million times higher than a human’s hearing range, and manufactured by blending biological tissues with electronics via a 3D printer. First invented in 1984, 3D printing is now capable of producing human organs and limbs, NASA rocket engine parts, car chassis, entire five-storey concrete houses and more. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
The design world has cottoned on to the possibilities of 3D printing too, using it to create everything from crockery to lampshades, while watchmakers have used the precision it affords to create intricate mechanisms and entire watch cases. But while there is a clutch of jewellers championing this new technology, others are disparaging about its use.
A researcher at the service’s Weapons and Materials Directorate lays out a vision for additive printers on the battlefield.
If you go by the Hype Cycle — Gartner’s annual tech-buzz assessment — then consumer 3D printing is about to tumble from the “peak of inflated expectations” into the “trough of disillusionment,” part of the coming five- to 10-year slog to the practical applications that await atop the “plateau of productivity.” But Larry “L.J.” Holmes, the principal investigator for materials and technology development in additive manufacturing at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, (ARL) isn’t waiting around for that.
In a presentation last month at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance summit, Holmes sketched out a variety of potential uses for 3D printing for the military, ranging from intelligence to communications to terraforming the battlefield. Here are a few highlights.