Has 3D printing’s hour finally come?

“Our digital manufacturing partners are working non-stop in the battle against this unprecedented virus.”

Additive manufacturing, or 3D Printing has long been trumpeted as the lodestar of a “Fourth Revolution”. In reality, uptake has been limited, it remains somewhat niche, and hype has not met market expectations. Yet as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3D printing industry and hobbyists alike are stepping up to help ease the supply chain disruptions by creating and printing urgently needed components.

The major issue for healthcare workers at the moment is the overwhelming numbers of people that are in urgent need of oxygenation; requiring ventilators so they can breathe long enough for their immune system to fight off the worst of the virus.

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How 3D printing can be used for coronavirus testing kits, masks and ventilator parts

More than a half million people across the world have been infected with the novel coronavirus. While the spread in China has slowed, the US is facing an alarming uptick. The overwhelming spread of COVID-19 has left physicians and hospitals at a loss, especially in regards to healthcare equipment, including masks, ventilators, and basic coronavirus testing kits. 3D printing, however, may be able to help replenish supplies.

Prior to COVID-19, 3D printing was most commonly, “used in manufacturing lines or during research and development and prototyping for any sort of device, medical or otherwise. One of the more popular ones are dental aligners. Even companies as large as Invisalign or a Smile Direct Club are using 3D printing to print those aligners,” said Guarav Manchada, director of  healthcare at Formlabs, a 3D printing company. 

However, the coronavirus is elevating the popularity of 3D printers, bringing them to the forefront of the public’s mind. 

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Industrial 3D printing: moving from traditional processes to metal 3D printing

Metal 3D printing is fast becoming one of the most popular industrial manufacturing processes. It can produce shapes and features that are impossible to manufacture with traditional metal fabrication methods. These include lattices, organic topologies and complex internal coring such as cooling channels. Metal laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) is a 3D printing process where powdered metal is selectively melted by a laser, on a layer-by-layer basis, until a part is formed. The process makes solid metal parts with a matte surface finish in alloys like aluminum, steel, stainless steel, Inconel (nickel-alloy), titanium and more. It’s better known by names like direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective laser melting (SLM), or direct metal laser melting (DMLM) but the processes are in most ways identical. For simplicity, DMLS will be used in this article.

Xometry from traditional to industrial

DMLS has added significant value in the aerospace industry, with demonstrated successes like GE’s GE9X engine used on the 777X housing hundreds of metal 3D printed features. The 3D printed parts offer better performance, less weight and fewer assembly parts than their predecessors. The fuel cost savings alone justify the increased infrastructure, R&D and quality assurance required for GE Additive to champion the metal 3D printing-based project.

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Stratasys gears up face shield production for Covid-19

3D printing specialist Stratasys is aiming to produce 5,000 disposable face shields in the US alone by the end of this week (March 27) in the fight against the Covid-19 coronavirus.

face shield

The PPE equipment for medical personnel consists of a 3D printed plastic frame and a clear plastic shield that guards the entire face of the wearer, under which particulate face masks are usually worn for additional protection. One leading hospital informed Stratasys that it uses more than 1,500 of the face shields over the course of a regular week. The Covid-19 outbreak had reduced the hospital to just six days’ inventory of the equipment.

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Satair teams with Fast Radius and HP to 3D print aircraft maintenance tooling components

Aircraft part manufacturer Satair is using HP’s full colour 3D printing technology via service provider Fast Radius to produce redesigned tooling components.

Satair HP Fast Radius

The Airbus services company moved to adopt Fast Radius’ 3D printing capabilities in a bid to increase the speed and sustainability of aircraft maintenance tool delivery. Working with both Fast Radius and HP, Satair has additively manufactured GAGS tool pads, flap zero locking tools and pintle bearing alignment tools, all of which are industry compliant.

Using the HP Jet Fusion 580 Color platform, these tools were printed in a PA 12 material, to take advantage of its chemical resistance to oils, greases, aliphatic hydrocarbons and alkalis, and in red and orange colours, to enhance their visibility. The GAGS tool pads have a reduced mass of 60% and an improved strength-to-weight ratio; the flap zero locking tools have been reduced from six assembled components to two, with its lead time halved; and the pintle bearing alignment tools have been reduced from four parts to two.

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Adding personalisation to the manufacturing sector’s toolbox

The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a tectonic shift.

It doesn’t matter whether a company’s product is automotive, electronic, construction or healthcare related – disruption is rife, largely due to new and emerging technology transforming the industry’s processes. The days of simple assembly lines have been leapfrogged as manufacturers are moving to embrace bold new production and design techniques. From automation and robotics, to 3D-printing and generative design software; there are a number of innovations helping to revolutionise the production line.

The manufacturing industry is in the midst of a tectonic shift.

Added to this is increased consumer demand, meaning manufacturers can’t afford to stand still. Companies must go beyond the product and connect with their customers in entirely new ways to stay afloat in today’s market and stand out from the crowd.

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Oil & Gas industry consortium completes two projects to accelerate adoption of AM

Two Joint Innovation Projects (JIPs) seeking to establish guidelines for the production and qualification of additive manufactured parts for the oil and gas and maritime industries, has concluded. 

The JIP members. Photo via Aidro.

The JIPs, organized by DNV GL, an international accredited registrar and classification society, and comprised of 20 different partners, involved 2 years of intensive work and discussion. Some of the firms involved include BP, Shell, Total, Siemens, SLM Solutions, Sandvik, Additive Industries and more. Their goal was to develop guidelines to help qualify parts produced by Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) and Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) processes. The partners also sought to create an accompanying economic model, to be used in the oil and gas and maritime industries.

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Process food with 3D printing

While synthesising meals on demand may seem like something out of a futuristic movie, 3D printing could soon become a regular way of processing food.

Tatjana Milenovic, Global Head of ABB’s Food and Beverage Segment, explains how 3D printing could change the way we manufacture food.

The ability to 3D-print food isn’t a huge intuitive leap. After all, we’ve already successfully created medical devices, machine tools and even entire homes using additive manufacturing technology. 

In 2006, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) began researching 3D-printed food and developed the NASA Advanced Food Programme seven years later, with the mission of feeding astronauts for extended periods of time. 

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Eriks meeting food safety regulations with Ultimaker S5 3D Printers

Award-winning desktop 3D printer provider Ultimaker has announced that ERIKS, an international industrial equipment supplier, has scaled up its 3D printing capabilities for OEM and MRO customers using Ultimaker 3D printers. 

Ultimaker S5 3D printers at ERIKS' facility. Photo via Ultimaker.

At its production facilities in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, ERIKS has installed multiple Ultimaker S5 Pro 3D printer bundles. Leveraging the systems, the company has provided its customers with support in identifying, designing and printing applications. With a focus on co-engineering, the company has been able to 3D print parts alongside its customers according to specific industry standards, especially in regards to food safety and cleanliness.

Such a process, Ultimaker claims, has made it easier for professionals working in MRO and OEM industries to adopt 3D printing technology. Jos Burger, CEO at Ultimaker, explains: “As shown in the 3D Printing Sentiment Index, only 35 percent of companies have adopted additive manufacturing, while in many industries worldwide margins are currently under high pressure. Efficiency is key to bring a competitive edge and 3D printing plays a major role in this, as ERIKS experienced first-hand with achieving their impressive cost-and time savings.”

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There’s “huge potential” for 3D printing inside aircraft cabins

ZAL Tech Center.JPG

ZAL Tech Center played host to this year’s Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin AM Conference.

I’ve said it before, since working in additive manufacturing I’ve adopted a bit of a habit of playing “spot the additive application” whenever I board a plane. Great for editorial, but quite annoying, I would imagine, for my other half whenever we go on holiday.

ZAL Tech Center.JPG

The same happened last week as I hopped on a flight to Hamburg for the second Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin Additive Manufacturing conference. As I settled into the brash yellow and blue my seats of my budget aircraft (the glamorous life of the media), I began circling with imaginary red pen all of the areas where AM might find a useful home from the tens of assembled parts I could see in the arm rest mechanism to the unnecessary tray tables that had been bolted shut to restrict use in the rows of emergency exit seats (it’s really almost TOO glamorous).

Two ferry rides later, it was exactly those types of applications that a collective of aerospace specialists and additive experts had gathered at the ZAL Tech Center, south of the River Elbe, to explore. If being privy to two days worth of brain storming sessions with a bunch of 3D printing-literate engineers shows you anything, it’s that those far flung ideas like personalised seats and bionic bathrooms are not a million miles away from reality. Though the suggestion of a real-life RoboCop may be taking things a little too far.

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