The big buzz in the rapid prototyping area is direct digital manufacturing. That is, the machines and materials originally designed to make fast prototypes have improved so significantly in recent years that they are now being positioned to make actual production parts for relatively low volumes. They’re already made an impressive entry into the production of jigs and fixtures used for assembly purposes.
One of the big issues is the ability of the newer equipment to make tolerances approaching, if not comparable to, injection molding processes. A new study from Stratasys shows impressive results. Of 3,888 measurements tested on 144 sample parts, 99.5 percent were within ±0.005 inch (0.13 mm), and 49.9% were within a narrow tolerance band of ±0.001 inch (0.03 mm). Throughout the analysis, only 197 measurements (5.1 percent) exceeded the tolerance specification.
Is that type of accuracy repeatable?
Stratasys says results were consistent among the three Fortus 900mc machines that were tested.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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