Although 3D additive manufacturing processes often get noticed, it's the materials that create the prototype, the model, or the end-product component. It's the new materials, not new processes, that have made it possible recently to produce low volumes of high-quality, complex models, parts, and complete products.
These products are meeting the rigorous requirements of aerospace, military, automotive, and medical applications. Completely functional dental implants and surgical guides, skull models, and models of hands and feet containing visible bone structures are some of the objects being made with extremely strong, easy-to-model, or biocompatible materials.
Some of these materials are also used in more exotic applications. Laser-sintered titanium can serve as the basis of medical implants or automotive parts. It can even quench the fashion industry's insatiable thirst for weird and unlikely looks in jewelry and shoes. Other 3D materials can help create anything from robot components and unmanned aerial vehicles to prototypes for sneaker soles, motocross helmets, and skateboard decks.
Click the image below to start a slideshow highlighting some of the newest innovations in 3D materials.
3D printing with ultra-clear materials can be used to make highly accurate medical models
that show detailed bone structures.
Great slide show, Ann. To me, the most compelling aspect of the story around the widening array of materials choices for 3D printing is that it is opening up so many new doors in the medical field. The work being done to create both dental and orthopedic prosthetics is not fascinating, but it's life changing for so many patients. Let's hope the advances continue at the same pace.
I agree with Beth that the medical applications are the most compelling. This is where the ability to create a truly custom part -- tailored to a patient's body -- is most useful.
By far, the least impressive application was the titanium shoe heel. Of course, being a guy, I'm just not that into shoes. But it also seemed like the heel could have just as easily been made by bending titanium wire into the desired shape. The advantage of making it using laser sintering wasn't obvious. The mechanical properties of bent wire would probably be better, too.
I would have liked to see more about the use of additive manufacturing techniques to make patterns for metalcasting. Just because metalcasting has been around for over five thousand years doesn't make it an old technology. The interface between metalcasting and additive manufacturing is a case in point.
Dr. Pradeep Rohatgi at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been working on developing a mobile metalcasting foundry for the U.S. Army which would potentially use rapid pattern manufacturing techniques. Maybe this could be the subject for another article?
Certainly the linkage of Adaptive Manufacturing technologies and metalcasting offers some of the most unique and valuable approaches for advancing products and materials. I've been assisting with a casting session at the SME Rapid conferences and we have a good session planned for Rapid2012 in Atlanta in May. Regading the mobile casting lab, I have seen the version developed by BuyCasting for the Army. The problem with this approach is the limitations placed upon trying to place a mobile manufacturing site into (2) 40 ft trailers. Sounds like a good idea, but the result is compromises either in the types of patterns or molds that can be made, metal melted, surface fuinsh, etc. So yuo don't get a true picture of the capabilities of the technology. The better approach is seeing it applied to advance manufacturing, like we have seen presented at these sessions.
Thanks, Beth and Dave. I agree, medical and dental uses look like one of the most important app areas for the broadening array of 3D materials choices.
The apps we chose for this slideshow were based at least in part on visual interest and photo quality, so medical, dental, and industrial uses are the result, with fashion added for the fun of it. I didn't find any interesting photos for metalcasting, but I'll keep that subject in mind.
Ann: Metalcasting seems an obvious application, but I have not seen it blossom in commercial appliations. Where investment casting is a nearly 6 month process it would seem to have a significant impact.
One aspect I would like to see more on is any improvements in resolution. Has anyone broken the .003 ~.005" mark?
@Tom: If it takes you 6 months to get an investment casting, you're probably getting them from the wrong foundry. A more typical lead time for an investment casting is 6 - 8 weeks. Signicast advertises that that they can get a casting tooled and into production in as little as 14 days. Having worked there several years ago, I can testify that they really are capable of pulling this off, although it's not easy!
Of course, there were times when it took us several months to get a part into production. But usually this was because of last-minute design changes by the customer. Some design changes can be accomodated easily. In other cases, adding a feature to an investment casting may require completely re-thinking the tool, gating, mold setup, etc.
Signicast and other investment casting foundries do use rapid patterns for prototyping, although generally not for serial production. Two of the common processes are QuickCast and ThermoJet, both of which are available from Express Pattern. Express Pattern has some data available on their website about pattern accuracy.
I agree, the medical applications are likely the killer app for additive methods. I like what is shown here, viz models and possibly casting forms. Odd, no mention of high termperature SLS - there is at least one company shipping patient specific CMF devices for immediate implant OUS. Not models or tools - implants.
Aside - anyone have a link to the Army projects on mobile castng labs? Looks pretty cool, also...
Wow --- the slideshow had some really impressive solutions that, for me, growing up using SLA's only for prototype 1st-pass housings for electronics, were totally outside of my paradigm.
Honestly, I had never considered 3D printing methods to be appropriate for anything other than pre-production tooled parts.
When I think back to the first SLA from 3D Systems I used in 1988, it had only one choice of laser solidified polymer resin.It was crystalline and brittle in its final form ... tough to assembly parts without breaking them ...but it was weeks faster than machining the prototypes from plastic blocks.
Seeing the creation of medical models for teaching and illustrative purposes for example, opens my thoughts to completely new arenas for rapid prototyping. That human hand with the internal bone structure is amazing.
But, models are still just models ...Or, is the industry claiming that some of the latest polymer resins used for SLA or Objet are actually approaching production quality of strength and reliability-?Will there come a day when the injection molding machine is obsolete-?
Jim, I remember the first SLA, too--I reported on it for (the long-defunct) Computer Design News. I remember seeing the photos and thinking it was like science fiction coming true to see a 3-D object materializing in front of one's eyes.
The abilities of 3D/additive manufacturing systems have come a long way since then. There are more processes and more materials. And yes, some of them are surprisingly durable and strong. In fact, the toughest aren't in this slideshow. They are being used in automotive and aerospace apps, albeit in very low quantities. Check them out in this recent feature article:
Additive Techniques Come to Low-Volume Manufacturing
Thanks for the back-reference, Ann, I missed that article last month. Using your example of the engine manifolds being foundry cast, but patterned from a SLA, I maintain that while AM parts are not robust enough to used in volume production, they do greatly enhance the design process leading to shorter design-cycle-time.I can't imagine designing a product today without the benefits of Rapid Prototyping technology available to help the process.
You quoted Jeff DeGrange explaining how 2-3 day turn around for redesigning race-car parts is critical in the racing industry, and AM fills that need. But what component in a race car engine can hold up to that extreme application? Did Jeff cite examples of what parts in a race car are AM'd -?
Contemplating the multiple examples you've shown , it's clear that all industries are trying more and more innovative applications -- and that's great to see. But I think injection molding machines are still going to be around for many years to come.
Jim, I don't believe De Grange specified what automobile parts were being made with AM for race cars. I do know I keep asking all vendors of AM materials, fiber reinforced composites, recycled plastics and engineering plastics to tell me exactly what part of a car or plane or industrial machine their stuff goes into. It obviously makes a big difference whether that part is in the engine or the seat, for example.
That said, I'm still a bit surprised that some commenters on my AM stories tell me it won't replace all of injection molding anytime soon. Not to single you out, but I've noticed this theme in many comments, so am mentioning it here. I wouldn't expect that either, since volumes are so low in the first, and so high in the second. I see similar comments on my recycled plastics, composites, and bioplastics articles. I guess my opinion every time is, if we don't start we won't ever get there, and Rome wasn't built in a day. Remember when we didn't have composites at all? Remember when they weren't structural? And now composites, and structural ones, are both in the Boeing 787.
@Ann: I'm sure some of us can come across as naysayers, but the fact is that technologies such as injection molding have a huge head start compared to additive manufacturing techniques. Injection molding has been around since 1946, and continues to advance. Metalcasting has literally been around for thousands of years, and also continues to advance. There is a tremendous (and growing!) amount of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about these processes, which doesn't exist for additive manufacturing.
The "traditional" manufacturing techniques (casting, forging, machining, etc.) have been around for as long as they have because they work, and they continue to evolve over time. So I would be extremely skeptical about any process which claims to completely replace one of the traditional processes. Instead, I would look for new processes to fill specific niches, which might expand over time. Composites are a good example of this.
The fact that most of us don't think that additive manufacturing (or bioplastics, or composites) are likely to render existing manufacturing techniques obsolete doesn't mean that we don't think these developments are exciting. We do. But we also recognize that existing manufacturing techniques continue to advance -- and this is exciting too.
Dave, I'm only surprised at the statements that the new tech won't take over all of the old tech. Of course! That seems quite obvious to me. None of the trends I've been reporting on, in any of the areas I mentioned, claim to be able to completely replace all of any existing technology. Not even composites. So that's why I've been surprised to see comments from several people that are written as if those claims have been made. (Even if they had been made, they wouldn't enter my article.)
That said, you may have heard such claims elsewhere. If so, I suspect people making them have been affected by the semiconductor-ization of technology in general. This is not a real phenomenon, but a semi-washing, or perhaps better, a techno-washing, if you will, that seems to assume Moore's "Law" is applicable to anything except DRAM memory. (Which it's not, really, although in general semi-based technologies are known for such massive replacements.) This misperception then leads people to believe that all kinds of non-semi-based, non-electronics technologies will behave like semi-based and electronics techs and the latest tech will completely replace the previous one. This is, of course, just silly.
Beth, I'm sensing a hint of exasperation in your reply and for that I sincerely apologize. It might seem like Dave & I are opposing your vision, but I certainly am not – I applaud it and your sense of hope. I definitely can imagine a day when AM is routinely producing parts in volume, but of course the individual part cycle time will have to increase dramatically. (currently hours for AM –vs- seconds for molding) But to your hopeful point, "if we don't start we won't ever get there, and Rome wasn't built in a day. ". I share your hope for the future.
Jim, you accurately picked up on my frustration. But it's at unclear, inaccurate communication, not at the idea that someone is opposing my vision--I don't have a vision to oppose where AM/3D is concerned. I don't expect AM to entirely take over other forms of manufacturing. Not sure how anyone could read that in to the article or to my comments. And I was surprised at the negative tone in some of those responses, hence my "if we don't start we won't get there" comment. I hope that's all now clear.
RePliForm, Inc provides a structural plating to the plastic protoype resins. So when you look at some of the resins and say, "Well this is just a model, it's not functional", it can easily be plated with .002" - .006" (tight fit tolerances can easily be offset in the file prior to the model build to allow for the addtional plating thickness, so the parts can fit back together) of metal and it drastically increases the strength and stiffness properties. You'll have a much longer last model as well. Even while many of the resins have improved and aren't as delicate as they used to be, their bending properties are usually still great. For many functions this is great, for wind tunnel testing, not so much. A thin metal coating over the plastic prototype will stiffen the parts up to create the stiffness properties needed. This can also save in time and cost from DMLS or casting in many applications.
allison-repliform, thanks for those observations. In 3D materials, as in recycled plastics or bio-based plastics, so much depends on the specific application and its specific combination of materials properties requirements, as you point out.
ChasChas, additive manufacturing is the overall term to describe this technology cluster. 3D printing refers to the use of laser-printer-like lower-end machines and what they do. OTOH, I agree with you, neither one of them really captures the amazing stuff these materials and machines can do.
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