3D Printing – The Present and Future Across Industries
Published by : Industrial Automation
Jabez Mendelson on how 3D printing has found different levels of adoption in different application sectors.
Additive Manufacturing/3D Printing has been around for more than three decades. The rise and proliferation of 3D printing technology were given a boost between 2013 and 2015 courtesy of the expiration of several patents pertaining to stereolithography, digital light processing, and selective laser sintering. The introduction of cheaper, faster, more user-friendly printers and the sale of expired kits and printers online also contributed.
As industry participants began to adopt and better understand the technology, the re-filing of patents and acquisition of technologies were initiated. With this came the addition of new features. Innovations in design, software solutions, printer capabilities, and dimensional accuracy improved the reliability of the technology among consumers as well as industrial markets. This, in turn, expanded the scope for the technology in universities and laboratories along with the industrial market.
Various industries are embracing the growth of 3D printing due to its quicker turnaround in product production. Companies in the aerospace, automotive, and healthcare ecosystem are some of the early adopters of the technology. As applications and material policies vary across industries, 3D printing has found different levels of adoption in different application sectors. Similar to varying growth across industries, 3D printing is uneven across geographies. This may be attributed to the larger number of applicants willing to risk the shift toward better and more efficient solutions.
Impact of 3D printing across industries
3D Printing in Building and Construction: 3D printing is an alternative solution to conventional manufacturing techniques, offering an environmentally friendly alternative to produce unlimited geometry derivations. 3D printing technology is currently being used to print buildings and skyscrapers or components and tools for the construction industry. The emergence of digital platforms that support 3D printing, such as computer-aided simulation and building information modelling, further aid and facilitate the growth of 3D printing. The digital representation and visual appearance of physical objects permit designers to gain knowledge of digital platforms. Digital tools and proactive virtual representation are a reliable source for decision-making throughout the lifecycle of the product, from design to demolition.
3D Printing in Healthcare: 3D printing technology can be used for medical and healthcare applications in the printing of skin, pharmaceutical research, development of bones and cartilages using biomaterials, replacement of organs, tissue research, and even to develop artificial organs. Initially developed to aid medical training and teaching by offering visual assistance to doctors and interns, 3D printing technology can replicate natural structures and substances present in humans without the need for years of extensive research. It will also increase the ability to treat more people and offer solutions to implant surgeries that might have either been too expensive or not feasible in case of an emergency. 3D printing is also used to create prosthetics. 3D printing with digital lighting processing is used in fabricating hearing aid shells. Silicone 3D printing also sees opportunities in the printing of soft implants and medical wearables.
3D Printing in Aerospace: 3D printing technology is known for its unparalleled freedom to design complex structures for the aerospace industry. One of the initial impacts of 3D printing in the aerospace industry is the printing of spare and prototype parts. 3D printing techniques such as direct metal laser melting are used to print engine fuel nozzles in volume, and electron beam melting is used to print jet engine turbine blades. The 3D printing technology also has the potential to redesign existing components, use minimal materials, and create lightweight components that perform similar functions, thus reducing energy and improving fuel efficiency.
3D Printing in Automotive: Automotive is yet another market with high scope, considering the demand and opportunities for volume prototyping and customised parts requirements. A wide range of automotive parts is 3D printed (mainly for prototyping), such as engine cylinder heads, intake manifolds, headlamps, door handles, display buttons, and brake rotors. In the automotive industry, 3D printing has profoundly influenced major companies. Its ability to produce shiny, lightweight, and complex structures rapidly has led to increased interest and adoption among automotive companies, largely for volume prototyping. In 2014, the Strati electric car, 3D printed from thermoplastic using large-scale fused deposition (big area additive manufacturing) technology, debuted. It was a collaborative effort by Cincinnati Incorporated, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Local Motors, and other industry participants. Local Motors went a step further and printed parts to design a driverless commercial vehicle in early 2014 called OLLI. The OLLI electric bus was printed out of recyclable materials and was one of the first 3D-printed commercial vehicles. 3D printing will significantly reduce the need for multiple participants in the manufacturing value chain, reduce associated costs, improve deliveries, and enable the
implementation of an organised logistics chain.
Metal 3D printing market set to flourish
Opportunities in the 3D printing market have expanded over the years with the availability of various 3D printing materials to print complex structures and also the ability to scale up the technology by accommodating more materials in a single machine. Moreover, hardware features such as the speed of machines can also be enhanced as research continues to unveil new innovations that offer three times quicker results when compared to relatively slow SLS printing systems. As more companies get involved in the market, each will offer different services to close unmet gaps, including printing lightweight parts, fully functional end products and electronic components, and even wearable products such as shoe insoles or jewellery. According to Frost & Sullivan analysis, Metal 3D printing is the fastest-growing 3D printing technology as the capabilities focus on delivering functionally adaptable parts and production-ready hardware systems. By expanding hardware features, the speed of 3D printers can be increased to obtain fully finished parts.
Jabez Mendelson is working on key consulting assignments of coveted private sector/government clients, offering market intelligence and analysis after conducting secondary & primary research. He also develops strategy for market entry and competitive analysis that help clients in decision-making, creates compelling technology and business forecast models; and provides current and prospective clients with automation and electronics technology forecasting in the automotive and manufacturing sectors.