2013 might well be known as the year of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. We have even started to discuss 4D printing, which adds transformation capabilities to 3D printed objects.
One of the questions I have repeatedly been asked is about materials available for 3D printing. What else can be used for 3D printing today other than plastic and polymer?
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia, found a new favorite material in titanium by producing a powder that allows titanium products to be manufactured using a 3D printer. To date, this innovation is unique to Australia.
The same premium quality at a lower cost
Titanium is a premium quality metal that offers countless applications across industries from aerospace to biomedical engineering. However, the way industries have been manufacturing titanium parts until now has been costly and wasteful. To dig deeper into this, I asked John Barnes, Leader of Titanium Technologies at CSIRO and Adjunct Professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, how 3D printing titanium products is more cost efficient. This is what he told me in an email:
First, titanium products are costly because you are paying a premium for the mill product and then a premium to remove the material. 40-50% of the cost of aero Ti parts is machining. When the average buy to fly is 11, you only use 10% of all that effort. In additive manufacturing, you still pay a premium for the material, but you can effectively get the buy to fly down well under 5 and perhaps to 2:1. That can be a tremendous change in cost.
The application fields of titanium 3D printed products include:
- Aerospace and Defense
- Medical implants
- Manufacturing industry
- Research & Development
CSIRO will be able to use the titanium powder to 3D print jet engines, bespoke hip joints, automotive parts, and even horseshoes as a remedy for lameness, and let's not forget the impact this will have in future space missions, just to mention a few of the specific applications.
Watch this video to see how the process of manufacture multiple components layer by layer works:
According to John Barnes, they are working with industry through things like the Additive Manufacturing Network to help them design for additive manufacturing, which yields better results.
"Our primary research goal, however, is taking our novel titanium production process, which yields a powder rather than a block, and modify that to work in additive processes. This will reduce the cost to manufacture in additive further still," Barnes said.
The question that many have been asking themselves since CSIRO made the process public earlier in 2013 is if 3D printing can rebuild manufacturing in Australia. For John Barnes, this is quite likely, as he points out in his detailed article "Can 3D Printing Rebuild Manufacturing in Australia?" Barnes says that the purpose of the Australian Additive Manufacturing Network that CSIRO created is "to make effective use of 3D printers and assist Australian manufacturing companies to compete globally."
From Australia to the world
Being that the process to produce the powder used to 3D print titanium products is exclusive to Australia, it is easy to foresee that Australia will soon become the world's first global provider of premium titanium products. There is no doubt this is just the beginning in this new industrial revolution, where the supply chains of several manufacturing industries will experience dramatic change and evolution.