Scott Sevcik, vice-president aerospace business segment at Stratasys looks at some of the current trends and developments that highlight the technology’s ongoing ability to deliver opportunities for aerospace manufacturers and their suppliers.
The relationship between the aerospace and additive manufacturing (AM) industries is continually evolving, with both sectors driven by innovation and change. As leaders in these fields invest in and develop technologies, their paths overlap and inform one another. The unique capabilities of AM to produce complex geometries work in symmetry with the needs of manufacturers, who continually strive to achieve faster speeds and utilise complex part designs to increase efficiency.
A Stanford computer scientist, Roy Amara, noted in the 1960s that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”. When it comes to 3D printing, it could certainly be argued that he was right.
A promise that could be fulfilled
3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, is a technology that is evolving fast and has not yet reached its full potential when it comes to decentralising production. It could very well offer the answer to the addiction the world has to the supply chain – simply by removing it from the equation. Now, 3D printing is only used for toy models and prototyping and it has not reached far beyond that.
The upcoming Additive Industrialization Center will develop know-how for direct production of 3D-printed parts.
3D printing has been crucial to the launch of General Motors’ halo Corvette sport sports car and was crucial in the company’s ability to pivot to producing medical equipment in response to the COVID-19 virus, but the company has even bigger plans for the technology coming later this year.
GM printed 17,000 face shields with its additive manufacturing equipment and printed the tooling for the injection molds that have now created 250,000 more shields. Before that, the team building the first mid-engine Corvette prototype relied on 75 percent printed parts to assemble the car for testing. This faster process sped the car’s development and pointed the way for future new car development projects.
As the additive manufacturing company 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing prepares for production, it has one critical advantage over the competition: a standalone CNC machine shop.
In 2013, additive manufacturing (AM) was having its moment. The possibilities of the technology for industrial production were just then becoming apparent to manufacturing at large. Indeed, at that time, the view of AM was soaring from lofty media hype into a stratosphere of impossible promises. Bob Markley was having a moment of his own at that time. He had just finished a 10-year stretch as an engineer for an Indy 500 racing team before moving on to work for Rolls Royce and then General Motors, the latter of which was consolidating its Indiana workforce to Pontiac, Michigan. Unable to relocate his family from their Indiana home, the then-31-year-old Mr. Markley wrote up a business plan centered around AM — a technology he’d barely used, but one that appealed to the experimental engineering style he’d developed through racing.
Thus, 2013 proved to be the year that Mr. Markley went all-in on AM, launching 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing in a 1,800-square-foot facility outside of Indianapolis. After opening for business, he quickly partnered with 3D Systems and brought in the company’s ProX 200 — a laser powder-bed fusion machine he still refers to today as his workhorse. Sustained financially by his original loan and a small but growing base of customers, Mr. Markley purchased a second ProX 200, followed by a 300 model and later a 320 that he beta tested for the company.
It is a common belief that you can make almost anything you want when it comes to 3D printing.
Bits and pieces ranging from a splint for a broken arm, a bulldozer part that has split or cracked, to a malfunctioning part on a navy ship patrolling high seas in the Middle East, can be remade with relative ease compared to a traditional replacement.
The 3D printing process, also known as additive manufacturing, is currently being adopted to solve some of Australia’s supply shortages during COVID-19.
Industry organisations such as the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC), CSIRO and industrial-scale additive manufacturing company Titomic are at the forefront of promoting 3D printing technologies and advocating for its growth.
IMCRC CEO David Chuter said 3D printing, particularly for plastics, has never been more relevant.
In a recent webinar, Chris Billings, the co-founder of Duncan Machine Products (DMP), which is a partner with my company, shared a parable that cut straight to a hurdle faced by people in their everyday lives and teams within businesses, both small and large. The story gives body to a nebulous force that holds us back, keeps us from advancing and dooms us to achieve the same results.
The often unrecognized force is a strong headwind at best, and a brick wall at worst, when change offers advantages. In simple terms, this obstacle is tradition.
Chris shared the “Grandma’s Ham” story to illustrate the paradigm he instills in his precision machine shop. Paraphrasing Zig Ziglar’s words from his book See You at the Top, Chris illustrated the human aspect of the challenge to change, to innovate, to do things differently.
By now, most of us in the manufacturing world are familiar with the steady stream of news describing organizations, large and small, providing medical equipment using 3D printers. Face masks, face shields, swabs, and parts for ventilators are the most common—and needed—as the frontline medical community struggles to heal patients while protecting themselves. What could be simpler than to create a design, prep the data, ship it to a printer and send the finished part to a happy user or manufacturer?
It is not as simple as it sounds.
“There are literally hundreds of 3D printing designs to support the current COVID-19 response. Some work, others don’t. Some look great but do not work,” explained Dr. Jenny Chen, M.D., founder and CEO of 3DHEALS, a company focusing on education and industrial research in bioprinting, regenerative medicine, and healthcare applications using 3D printing. She was a moderator for a webinar panel titled “3D Printing Design for COVID-19,” presented April 22.
3D printing is the essence of tech for good. Over the next decade it will be crucial to our ability to solve the climate crisis and it has huge potential to lessen the impact of manufacturing on the planet.
But the business case for embracing 3D printing is just as strong. The technology has the potential to transform every industry and change the way we work and live in the future. Within the manufacturing sector it will play a significant role in reducing waste, challenging global supply chains and offering greater flexibility in the manufacturing process.
Last year, the world experienced unparalleled growth in the 3D printing market. Entrepreneurs have clamored to enter this space for the last five years, competing to develop new software and applications. The venture capital market raised huge funds, to the sum of over $1.1 billion, by 3D printing start-ups in 2019 alone. We are already seeing unprecedented adoption rates and aftermarket supply chain growth.
This week, California-based metal 3D printing company Velo3D revealed it had raised an additional $12m in funding, taking its total to $150m. The money will be used to develop a new approach to metal 3D printing, reducing the need to re-design parts for additive manufacturing.
Velo3D believes this approach can help engineers realize the potential that lies in metal 3D printing.
The 3D printing industry is not short of potential. In 2019, GlobalData estimated the market would be worth $32bn by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% between 2018 and 2025.
Oil company X had problems this spring. It was time for field maintenance, but company X couldn’t go ahead with it because it needed spare parts that weren’t coming anytime soon. Coronavirus-prompted lockdowns were breaking down international supply chains. Refinery Y had the same problem. It was maintenance time, and maintenance could not begin because of that same disruption to the supply chain. Refinery Y had to delay its maintenance, risking outages.
The problems of X and Y are very real and also dangerous. They also reveal one of the less pleasant aspects of the globalized economy: an overdependence on long international supply chains. But there is an alternative to these long supply chains: additive manufacturing or 3D printing.