Everywhere I explored at Rapid 2009, it was apparent there is a battle under way in materials technology in the fast-emerging rapid manufacturing industry. Some suppliers have “real” materials. Others are stiff and tough. Some are clear. Design engineers can be excused if they can’t keep it straight. You virtually need to keep a daily scorecard. And no matter what you pick, you are probably making some type of tradeoff. There may be some sacrifice in surface finish or accuracy in a laser sintering process. But you get real world metals and plastics that are actually used in functional applications. The range of materials’ qualities you can get with stereolithography systems is impressive. They are increasingly stiff and tough, and will be getting better in terms of thermal properties. Both systems offer the opportunity to create intricate internal shapes, though. And that’s something that’s expensive and difficult to achieve in the injection molding process.
Plastic bags can become useful as either raw materials for plastics or feedstock for fuel. It's when they're not recycled that they become a major problem. That's what California's bag ban will prevent.
NASA's JPL and Caltech have achieved the mind-boggling feat of 3D printing multiple metals in a single end-part, grading from one alloy to another. They've also developed a method for combining metals with carbon fiber composites in end-production parts.
More and more robots are becoming more autonomous all the time. Now Lockheed Martin has completed a demo mission with two completely autonomous robotic vehicles performing resupply, reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition.
Producing high-quality end-production metal parts with additive manufacturing for applications like aerospace and medical requires very tightly controlled processes and materials. New standards and guidelines for machines and processes, materials, and printed parts are underway from bodies such as ASTM International.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.