Historically, 3D printing has made its mark in the earliest design phases of a product and in supporting maintenance and repair in the aftermarket. Now, all signs are pointing to the technology stepping up to print parts to support manufacturing and smooth out supply chain gaps even in demanding vertical markets.
“In 2022, we expect the impact of 3D printing to continue building across a range of large industries,” said Wayne Davey, global head of 3D Printing Solutions Go-to-Market for HP. “We’re already seeing this trend take hold in industries including automotive, consumer, healthcare and industrial. 3D printing has advanced to deliver design freedom and significant time, economic, and supply chain benefits for a wide variety of parts.”
The 3D printing market for electronics will explode over the next five years. DataM Intelligence expects the 3D printed electronics market to grow at 39.5 percent between 2021 and 2028. High performance applications that are also concerned about weight, such as aerospace, medical and transportation benefit particularly.
The additive equation
The benefits of 3D printing parts is clear. The technology puts the supply at the point of manufacturing, which increases flexibility and resilience of the supply chain. “3D printing supports sustainability in a different sense of the word,” said Alessio Lorusso, CEO of Roboze. “With distributed manufacturing, manufacturers can produce parts just in time, close to the time of need and near where it is used. Not only does this help reduce emissions, but it also helps organizations reduce cost of inventory and shipping time.”
In order to leverage additive manufacturing to their supply chain, OEMs need to invest in both 3D printers and materials. Further, the printing technology must be precise and repeatable, particularly in extreme markets. “Five or ten years ago, the performance that is available in the market now was absolutely not achievable,” said Lorusso. “These polymers require special conditions to be processed, probably more than metals. The material has incredible mechanical and thermo, saving 70 percent of weight compared to metal, and withstand much more chemical aggressive areas.”
Further, the technology has evolved to allow the printing of thousands of parts on site in a timely way. “Volumes for both prototyping and production 3D printed parts continues to grow. There are circumstances where additive manufacturing is less expensive than injection molding for up to 30,000 parts,” said HP’s Davey. “We can see that ramping up to hundreds of thousands of parts.”
Metal or plastic?
Once, 3D printing of metal only was the goal, but now improvements in polymer filaments has made robust and lightweight parts made of plastic possible. At the same time, metal printing is also making strides.
In fact, 3D printing on metal is the fastest growing segment despite the need for higher cost machinery, which currently costs an average of $50,000 to $1 million per printer. “Nowadays, companies are focusing on producing machines that are easy to use, faster and more powerful,” according to DataM Intelligence. “Companies are working on eliminating and reducing trial and error processes across a wide variety of part geometries, enabling companies to mass-produce 3D printed parts faster and at a lower cost. There are many metal 3D printers on the market to cater the different industry demands.”
Today, metal 3D printing has been adopted by some markets including the automotive market. These OEMs are working toward weight reduction to increase fuel efficiency as well as a complex and overstretched supply chain. 3D printing also allows for the production of an assembly of several parts to be printing as a single item.
Today, printed parts in automotive is a reality. In 2019, for example, Volkswagen announced that it would be using His Metal Jet to introduce both cosmetic and structural parts to its T-Roc Cabral parts which have passed crash test certification and weigh almost 50 percent less than conventional components, said Davey. “Auto manufacturers are among the most demanding in the world. This is the first time an automaker is using metal binder jetting for structural components. We are continuing to validate production applications with partners and customers as we move toward broader commercial Metal Jet availability in 2022.”
At the same time, polymer parts are making strides as well. This week, Roboze introduced a super polymer for composite 3D printing, called called Helios PEEK 2005. The polymer withstands high operating temperatures above 170 degrees. The printed parts are light, with a low electrical conductivity, suitable for applications where the insulation characteristic is a fundamental technical requirement, the company said. Roboze’s customer roster includes companies in demanding industries including GE, Bosch, Airbus and others.
The new world
3D printing technologies are stepping up to deliver for demanding verticals including automotive and aerospace. In a world were supply chain resilience and agility are critical and complexity is ever increasing, 3D printing technologies are poised to deliver parts in new ways.