@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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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-?
@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.
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?
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.
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The grab bag of plastic and rubber materials featured in this new product slideshow are aimed at lighting applications or automotive uses. The rest are for a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, oil & gas, RF and radar, automotive, building materials, and more.
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