EOS filled materials that contain a hollow filler can reduce weight even more. Don Vanelli, president of EOS-owned Advanced Laser Materials, said:
For many years there wasn't much choice of filled materials on the polymer side: perhaps two or three, mostly nylon, with a choice of adding glass or aluminum as fillers. So we developed new polymers, as well as mixing, blending, or providing secondary processing to make them more usable for a specific application. We aim at low-volume production parts and single customized production parts.
EOS's aerospace customers are now fully utilizing a printer's capacity, helping to make parts less expensive. Vanelli said:
If I turn the machine on and build one part that uses only 10 percent of the space, I could theoretically add another nine parts to fill that space and increase efficiency. Laser sintering has become a viable way to make end-use parts, not just prototypes, so demand is increasing, and the cost is going down. Also, on the hardware side, machine scanning speeds and accuracy are going up, so the time to build a part is getting shorter.
Customers are finding they can do parts consolidation because of laser sintering, said Andrew Snow, director for EOS of North America. They can reduce the overall parts cost and secondary operations for assembly or finishing, or secondary welding and brazing operations. Although the machines are getting better and faster, adopting the technology can also dramatically reduce parts count and inventory.
For example, Northwest UAV Propulsion Systems and its sister company, Northwest Rapid Manufacturing, used EOS's FORMIGA P 100 plastic laser-sintering system to build a complete UAV generator set. The set consists of a combustion engine that drives an electrical generator. It increases fuel capacity with a plastic tank design that maximizes available space and incorporates both the fuel tank and its enclosure in a single part.
In other military applications with a medical slant, DARPA has bought some Stratasys printers for making scaffolds, rib spreaders, and other handheld medical devices used by doctors on the front lines. DeGrange said:
They want to see if it's possible to send a file to a printer in an Afghanistan tent city, build the tool in the machine, and make sure they're sterile. They're working with a special material that can compound particles such as silver into the plastic to kill bacteria.
In Stage 1 studies, DARPA is using Stratasys's uPrint machines to test the concept and the material, but wants to shift to smaller Mojo printers that can run off a HUMVEE's DC power. That would let the technology be deployed in mountains or other remote areas not only in tent cities. "We already have medical-grade ABS plastics that meet ISO 10993 guidelines, but users don't typically run those on the uPrint or the Mojo," said DeGrange. Being able to print on-demand sterile medical tools could also be valuable for disaster areas, search-and-rescue efforts, and first responders.
Ann, I just wanted to say. I know I go on and on about this 3D printing, but it just fascinates me to no end. We talked just a few months ago about materials and they are already here. Like you said, it's progressing very fast. I'm just really interested in this.
That person would still need machining knowledge. At least knowledge of the measuring tools. I can see it as a trade school thing. Now instead of going for machining you go for 3D printing. I might be wrong, but it seems possible.
I agree about tight tolerances. The fact that this technology is being used in commercial aircraft and medical applications speaks volumes about its success in achieving consistent, repeatable, very tight tolerances.
One more thought. One thing that comes to mind to me, being an ex-machinist is the precision i.e. tolerances they can hold. I am betting they get better at that. You can print something all day long with whatever material, but if you can't hold certain tolerances then it isn't good for precision work.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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