What was the last thing you printed? While for many of us it’s likely to be a work document or a pile of handouts, the research engineers at the Wärtsilä Hub for Additive Manufacturing (WHAM) has moved into another dimension – printing critical engine components and leading the way in 3D printing utilisation.
3D printing, the more well-known name for the additive manufacturing process, promises to revolutionise component production. It is already being used in industries as diverse as aerospace and healthcare and is a key element of the on-demand economy, where components are manufactured only when needed, reducing warehousing costs and cutting down delivery times. It can also make manufacturing easier, cheaper and faster, opening up the opportunity to produce components on-site, eliminating the need for transportation and therefore reducing transport-based emissions.
One of struggle, one of anguish, one of a technology that may have previously failed to live up to such lofty promise, perhaps now finding its role in the manufacturing landscape.
Though there were plenty of businesses in the 3D printing industry that had significant issues to encounter – GE in its AM-related goodwill impairment charges or Stratasys and 3D Systems in their workforce reductions – the technology itself comes out of 2020 with an enhanced reputation.
It was responsible for millions of parts produced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to alleviate slightly the pressure that medical professionals and procurement personnel were under, while allowing manufacturers to pivot from what they typically produced to what, in that moment, we needed them to.
Thyssenkrupp and Wilhelmsen are collaborating on leveraging on thyssenkrupp’s deep expertise in AM alongside Wilhelmsen’s in-depth maritime expertise and direct ongoing experience in understanding the needs of vessel fleet managers.
Based on current data, maritime fleets spend approximately $13 billion a year on spare parts. With 50% of these vessels being older than 15 years, the availability of parts are limited. This makes the fulfillment of orders for maritime spare parts costly and complicated, and in fact, supply chain overheads involved may oftentimes far outstrip the cost of the part itself.
Louisa Allen explores additive manufacturing solutions for the energy and oil & gas industries
Innovations brought about by 3D printing have largely focused on industrial applications. We read about how car manufacturers are using this technology to build custom parts and tools more efficiently and at a lower cost. The aeronautics industry is using additive manufacturing to create lightweight components to help boost fuel economy. 3D printing has also enabled the sector to streamline the supply chain as well as product parts on-demand. Both of these actions help reduce lead times and lower operations costs.
There has also been quite a buzz about 3D printing and its impact on the healthcare industry, particularly its influence on patient-centered medical care. But the applications of this revolutionary technology does not limit itself to these fields. Case in point, the energy, oil, and gas industries are now looking to adopt additive manufacturing to help them harness our natural resources. Below are just a few of the solutions that are now being implemented by big companies such as Chevron and Shell Global.
Lunar landers could use 3D-printed rocket engine parts that bring down manufacturing costs and production times.
NASA recently hot-fire tested a pair of 3D-printed components designed for rocket engines, a combustion chamber and nozzle. They are 3D printed out of a high-strength, hydrogen-resistant alloy and should withstand the combustion environments that until now only traditionally manufactured metal structures were able to.
The high-strength iron-nickel superalloy nozzle was printed using a method called laser powder directed energy deposition, which deposits and melts the metal powder to create freeform structures. This method let NASA turn out small- and large-scale components.
PostNord, Stockholm, Sweden, the largest logistics company in the Nordics and a subsidiary of PostNord Strålfor Group. The digital inventory provides communication and logistics solutions to optimise Additive Manufacturing for the medical market.
PostNord’s continued expansion into AM is driving the need for an integrated offering within the medical market. Key enablers delivered to PostNord by Link3D as part of the deployment include a secure platform for physicians to move seamlessly from X-ray to part order, improving delivery speed, and integration with an industry-leading e-commerce platform that provides an end-to-end customer experience, from order requesting to delivery.
The deployment with PostNord is the latest expansion into a new market, with increasing numbers of potential customers beginning to see the need for an operating system that enables them utilise Additive Manufacturing across a variety of use cases. Link3D is offering a solution to this new problem, having already deployed solutions across aerospace, medical and contract manufacturing sectors.
Instead of sourcing components from single suppliers, manufacturers are starting to look for smaller orders from a range of suppliers to guard against the supply chain disruptions seen during the pandemic.
Slimane Allab, senior vice president and general manager, EMEA of supply chain tech company LLamasoft said, “Short run manufacturing is effectively bridging the gap between product prototyping and full-scale manufacturing plans.
Recently on the 3DPod, we discussed supply chain resilience with HP’s Ramon Pastor. He mentioned that he believes that cost-driven supply chains are a thing of the past. He said that, previously, companies thought that, if they had two suppliers for a part or factories in different countries, this was enough to ensure resilience.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all learned that this is not enough. A genuinely global crisis has meant that both of a company’s supplier factories separated by oceans can be closed by the same event. What’s more, local events like a gigantic port fire in Dalian or a longshoreman strike in California can have knock-on effects that reverberate throughout the globe. At the same time, Pastor contended that we may have just experienced an unprecedented period of stability that may, in fact, be ending, bringing more geopolitical risk.
UK-based global major aerospace and defence group BAE Systems (BAES) has reported how the latest technologies are being used to drive forward, with unprecedented speed, Britain’s next-generation combat air system programme. Known as Tempest, this project is really benefitting from and making full use of digital twinning and three-dimensional (3D) printing (also known as additive manufacturing) technologies.
Digital twinning involves creating, in a computer system, an exact but virtual duplicate of a real-world entity and of all its systems, subsystems and components. Except that the real-world entity does not actually have to exist yet, as is the case with Tempest. The virtual duplicate can then be subjected to all sorts of simulated tests and evaluations, accelerating the design process while reducing costs.
As a person in the additive manufacturing media, well-meaning texts from friends and family members containing 3D printing news stories are always a good indication of the technology’s footing in the mainstream conversation. So, as the coronavirus pandemic hit and 3D printers were poised as the solution to pressing supply chain challenges for crucial items on the frontline, you can imagine, my inbox was pretty full.
Hospitals brought 3D printers in-house to support production of protective medical equipment, universities loaned their additive capabilities to print parts for local healthcare providers, and 3D printing equipment manufacturers became service providers overnight.
How that awareness and momentum might extend to the coming months and indeed years, particularly as this health crisis remains, is up for debate, and yesterday a trio of panellists across various industry segments came together to discuss what that could look like.