We’re seeing several additive manufacturing trends that will become major factors in 2023. These trends have been growing during the last few years. What we’ll see in 2023 is the maturity of the technology. We’ll see 3D printing take a permanent place in the choices of production methods. 3D printing companies continue to experiment with methods and materials, but the core technology has achieved acceptance in mainstream manufacturing. We’ll see the implications of this play out again and again in the coming year.
The Many Faces of Sustainability
One advantage of 3D printing is its eco-friendliness. That's apparent in designs, prototypes, tools, molds, and final products. There is less waste, and the processing method requires less energy. Much of the waste can be instantly recycled. Products can be designed with less material. Items can be lightweighted, thus providing energy savings during the product's lifecycle. Whole assemblies can be printed, reducing the need for printing multiple individual parts.
An engine part prototype requires far less material to 3D print than to machine from a block of metal. A plastic prototype can be 3D printed as one part instead of injection molded from three separate molds and then assembled.
Autodesk has put together a sustainability site that includes a database of materials, manufacturing methods, and other elements of product design and manufacturing to help with additive manufacturing sustainability. The site uses data to analyze the sustainability of a product design. The site can also recommend alternatives to increase a product’s sustainability without diminishing quality.
Advances in 3DP for Medical
University and corporate research departments are developing 3D printing techniques for human tissue. As an example, the 3D Printing and Imaging Laboratory at the University of Minnesota – a collaborative research group within the university's Department of Radiation Oncology – has brought together specialists across multiple disciplines including medical physics, clinical radiation oncology, and veterinary medicine.
The group is using advanced imaging, computational modeling, and artificial intelligence to 3D print human tissue. They are using stem cells from the patient to 3D print skin patches. Their first aim for a complete internal organ will be a human kidney. They are also using advanced technology to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies.
Additive Manufacturing Automation
While 3D printing automates part development, manufacturers utilize digital workflows and automation systems to further streamline additive manufacturing lines. Automated part processing eliminates manual intervention after component production, increasing production throughput.
Many startups are offering printer-agnostic design and processing software and hardware solutions that automate additive manufacturing processes. They enable high-speed part development, on-demand manufacturing, and rapid prototyping while enhancing print flexibility and minimizing waste. Further, automated 3D printing lines reduce labor costs and eliminate manual errors.
Investments in additive manufacturing materials are fueling growth in additive manufacturing possibilities. According to Jabil, “You can’t overstate the significance of new materials. Outside of the high cost of the equipment, the next big barrier is materials and closed additive manufacturing ecosystems, which have stymied the 3D printing industry’s growth. Numerous types of 3D printing materials are on the market today, but few are advanced enough to meet the quality or regulatory requirements of industries.”
Feedstock material and binder properties are significantly impacting the mechanical properties of the printed product. Startups are developing novel materials to apply additive manufacturing in various use cases. Moreover, smart materials, ceramics, electronics, biomaterials, and composites find use in developing components with advanced properties. They enable 3D printing of unconventional products like medical devices, consumer electronics, and bioartificial organs. Further, startups are extracting high-value 3D printable materials from waste streams to reduce virgin material requirements and emissions.
Rapid Prototyping to Production
Additive manufacturing has come of age as a dependable and efficient form of manufacturing. As major companies in aerospace, automotive, and medical adopt additive manufacturing as part of everyday manufacturing, the technology has earned a permanent – not experimental – place among production choices.
3D printing use for jigs, fixtures and tooling, bridge production, and production parts has grown remarkably over the last few years. In that time, the heavy equipment and industrial machines industries have seen the highest adoption of use cases for jigs, fixtures, and tooling; healthcare has been the biggest adopter of bridge production, and the orthopedics and industrial machines industries have seen the highest adoption rates in using 3D printing for production parts.
Making the Supply Chain More Resilient
The pandemic revealed weakness in the supply chain. While some of those problems have cleared, weakness still persists and will continue for some time. Additive manufacturing came to the rescue during worldwide shortages of PPE and ventilators. The technology will continue to be called upon to bridge supply chain disruptions.
Jabil noted that supply chain management has focused on cost and efficiencies at the expense of resiliency. It’s no wonder that many supply chains failed when faced with disruption as big as the pandemic—COVID-19's supply chain impact was felt across every industry, but especially in healthcare and medical devices. Now, building supply chain resilience is a key objective across industries.