The more companies that use 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) for functional end-products, the better off everyone in industrial manufacturing will be. If many more small OEMs are using AM, in addition to the huge, high-profile companies everyone already knows about, then the technology continues to grow for all.
That's the philosophy of Layered Manufacturing and Consulting, an AM consultancy for a number of application areas, including medical, aerospace, and automotive. Although it can also broker parts with collaborative service bureaus and manage engineering projects, the consultancy's main thrust is to help OEMs go beyond just producing parts on demand, and expand their use of AM into making functional, usable parts, owner Shannon Van Deren told Design News.
Assisting engineers and their companies with design and development projects includes finding new processes and materials, and introducing customers to them. "Some of these are developed overseas and not yet available in the US, so sometimes our role is to create beta relationships with machine and materials suppliers," said Van Deren. "Since we are technology agnostic, our loyalty rests with the customer, not the manufacturer. We want to create expansion and breadth for any OEM, so many more industries can find uses for AM."
OEMs want a wider breadth of materials offerings, tighter tolerances on prints, and better surface finishes, as well as better part density and faster processes, said Van Deren. In metals, medical device designers are using mostly titanium and cobalt chrome for implantables. For instrumentation, it's mostly 17-4 PH (precipitation hardening) stainless steel because of its anti-corrosion characteristics, as well as some aluminum. Titanium is also occasionally used for instrumentation, but it's more cost-prohibitive.
3D Printed Medical Devices. Shannon Van Deren will delve into details on the exciting innovations of metal-based 3D printing processes, with a focus on implants/instruments, in the "Options in Metal Based Processes for Medical Devices" session during Medical Design & Manufacturing, Sept. 21-22, 2016 in Minneapolis. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.
What some OEMs are looking for in new metals are 400 series stainless steel for its hardness and anti-corrosive characteristics, as well as high-temperature metals like Kovar. "We are also seeing a call for processes that allow bigger build envelopes and tighter tolerances, as well as increased density in the printed part," said Van Deren. "Manufacturers will claim certain tolerances on a printed part, but tolerance is very geometry-dependent. So is production volume. Volume can definitely be an issue, and is dependent on both part size and geometry."
Layered Manufacturing is experienced with several major AM and traditional manufacturing processes, as well as multiple materials for use with them. Processes include selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA), electron beam melting (EBM), fused deposition modeling (FDM), PolyJet, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), CNC, cast urethane, and injection molding. Material data sheets (MDS) for a wide range of materials are posted on the consultancy's website.
Van Deren will be giving a talk on these subjects at next month's MD&M conference in Minneapolis. "Options in Metal-Based Processes for Medical Devices" will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22 at 10:30 a.m.
Her presentation will discuss new and existing metal-based processes and materials for AM, primarily in the medical space. Most examples will be of medical devices, but other industries will also be included. All AM metal technologies will be discussed.
Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 29 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.