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.
Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) is partnering with Local Motors to develop technology that will 3D-print an entire production-model car. A second deal with Cincinnati Inc. will develop a huge, very fast commercial 3D printer.
CRP Technology has 3D-printed a 1:14 scale model of a yacht in carbon fiber composites to demonstrate the possibilities and give a boost to boat design. The material and process are also used for under-hood motorsport applications and in aerospace.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.