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.
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...
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.
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
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.
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