Report: 3D Printing Will (Eventually) Transform Manufacturing
Although consumer applications have gotten a lot of attention, these will remain a small portion of the 3D printed parts market. By 2025, prototypes and production parts for automotive, medical, and aerospace segments combined will represent 84 percent of the entire market. (Source: Lux Research)
78RPM, thanks for your comments and the info on ExOne--we did write about them and what they're doing with metals and other materials: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=252293 But we like to hear about new players in this widening industry.
Having been involved with rapid prototyping since the mid-late 90's and in the plastics industry for longer, I understand what you are saying. Will AM replace high volume production? I can't say that is will. I do believe that with the improvements in the available materials, accuracy of the machines, and their increased capabilities, I can see AM having a significant impact on low volume or quick turn parts. If I can get 10-20 or even 100 parts that will perform as needed in the same time it would take to build a mold, it becomes the obvious choice. Companies like Invisa-Line creating custom orthodontics, or Rausch making custom 1-off racing parts is where this technology is already transforming manufacturing. I see this growing and becoming more wide spread as time goes on. As more become aware of the capabilities, as well as understanding the limits, parts can be designed accordingly. Think of the metal to plastics conversion. The designs had to change to account for different properties, and as people became more educated accordingly, other features not possible in metal were added. Assemblies can be simplified by designing the molded parts differently. If the same approach it taken with AM, I think the sky is the limit.
Ann, the biggest hurdle to 3D printing ever catching and surpassing conventional molding is the high-volume throughput capability of injection molding. Typical molded parts (components of super high volume products like iPhones) are injection-molded in about 20 seconds -- usually with multiple cavities – so routine production yields 3 parts/minute per cavity.
So, accepting that AM methods will never be able (did I say never-?) to reach this "run-rate", then the logical application of the 3D methods is to print the tooling; not the parts.
Even after great strides have been made in slashing tooling lead-times over the past 15 years, tool-makers lead-times are still measured in "weeks" (4-6 is average) for conventional mold tools. Imagine if toolmakers simply printed the mold base using an advanced SLS method for metals; a mold base typically taking 2 weeks to complete could be measured in hours.
Accordingly, my vision of the3DP & AM industry points at tooling -- I just cannot imagine the part processing ever matching market demand.
As you probably know and may have written about already, a company called ExOne recently had its IPO. Their printers can print in brass, stainless steel and sand. They can print pretty large objects. Their website says the Navy uses the printers to print out-of-production parts for old ships. The process is far cheaper than going out to bid for someone to make them.
Thanks for your comments, Elizabeth. I've been writing about this space for awhile, but was surprised at what a small proportion of the market comprises consumer applications right now. Those are what's getting all the media attention from the non-technical press, since they've got the sci-fi magic-like appeal of "instantly" creating something.
Interesting report, Ann. I am not surprised that the consumer space will only be a small portion of the market growth, and that prototyping and small-volume manufacturing will contribute to most of it. But I think a lot of people who don't follow the industry might not realize this because, as you said, consumer products get a lot of play (and of course, are sexier to the general public than manufacturer's use of 3D printing). But all in all, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
To give engineers a better idea of the range of resins and polymers available as alternatives to other materials, this Technology Roundup presents several articles on engineering plastics that can do the job.
The first photos made with a 3D-printed telescope are here and they're not as fuzzy as you might expect. A team from the University of Sheffield beat NASA to the goal. The photos of the Moon were made with a reflecting telescope that cost the research team £100 to make (about $161 US).
A tiny humanoid robot has safely piloted a small plane all the way from cold start to takeoff, landing and coming to a full stop on the plane's designated runway. Yes, it happened in a pilot training simulation -- but the research team isn't far away from doing it in the real world.
Some in the US have welcomed 3D printing for boosting local economies and bringing some offshored manufacturing back onshore. Meanwhile, China is wielding its power of numbers, and its very different relationships between government, education, and industry, to kickstart a homegrown industry.
You can find out practically everything you need to know about engineering plastics as alternatives to other materials at the 2014 IAPD Plastics Expo. Admission is free for engineers, designers, specifiers, and OEMs, as well as students and faculty.
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