Exploring The Boundless Potential of Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing refers to acomputer assisted technique of adding materials layer-upon-layer to produce a three-dimensional object. AM uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to direct digital machinery that accurately generates detailed geometric structures. AM enables the production of lighter, stronger parts and systems that offer digital flexibility and efficiency to manufacturing operations through the meticulous deposit of layer upon layer of material.

What are the Different Technologies of 3D Printing?

1. Stereolithography

Stereolithography is one of the most well-known and broadly utilized additive manufacturing techniques, commonly known as SLA 3D printing. Laser energy is used to harden liquid resin stored in a reservoir, permitting the desired 3D shape to be made.This object is then sliced into thin layers, and a laser is used to selectively cure each layer of resin, building up the object layer by layer. The finished object is then removed from the build platform and post-processed, such as cleaning and curing. SLA is known for producing high-resolution, accurate parts with a smooth surface finish. It is widely used in prototyping, jewelry, dental, and medical field.

This type of 3D printing, also known as resin 3D printing, has become massively famous for its ability to make high-precision, watertight and exact models, parts, components out of a wide range of advanced materials with smooth surfaces.

2. Fused Deposition Modelling

Fused deposition modeling (FDM), also known as fused filament fabrication (FFF), is the most commonly used 3D printing technology for consumers. It is a layer AM technology that produces end-use parts and models by utilizing production-grade thermoplastic materials.

FDM 3D printers are used in the aerospace and automotive industry to assist product research and design.

3. Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an AM technique. It is a process in which a high-powered laser beam is aimed into powdered material (typically nylon or polyamide) bed to sinter a layer of the desired object. The market for SLS printer is expected to be driven by the rising demand from developed countries such as the U.S, Japan, and Canadaowing to the presence of R&D facilities in the countries.

The availability of non-metal powders for making prototypes and parts has led to the increased utilization laser sintering printers. Laser sintering printers are mostly used for printing metal parts.

4. Direct Metal Laser Sintering

Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is also known as selective laser melting (SLM). It is an additive manufacturing technology that uses a high-density laser on a powdered metal base to melt the powder and create a 3D printed model. DMLS can make strong and durable parts that can be used both as prototypes and end products.

DMLS can be used to manufacture small integrated structures, dental components, surgical implants, aerospace parts, and other applications because of their highly versatile design capabilities. Leading space organizations such as NASA and SpaceX have used DMLS technology to print specific and accurate parts for their designs. Furthermore, various initiatives such as the Canada’s Metal Additive Program and India’s National Strategy on Additive Manufacturinghelp in the progress of DMLS printer industry.

5. Inkjet Printing

Inkjet 3D printing is a method of 3D printing that uses inkjet technology to print three-dimensional objects. In this process, a material is extruded from a nozzle and is then selectively deposited layer-by-layer to create the final object. The material can be a liquid, powder, or paste and is typically cured or solidified after each layer is printed. Inkjet 3D printing is known for its high resolution and the ability to print complex geometries, however, the print speed is relatively slower than other 3D printing methods.

It belongs to an extended group of manufacturing technologies known as solid freeform fabrication (SFF). 3D inkjet printing is projected as a significant alternative for the production of microlens due to its high efficiency, flexibility, and scalability as well as its capability to produce high-quality products.

6. Laser Metal Deposition

Laser metal deposition (LMD), also known as laser cladding equipmentrefers to the equipment that is utilized in laser cladding process. This method uses a laser to deposit a layer of material for creating a flawless protective covering which is bonded to the base material with the least amount of dilution possible.LMD can be used to repair or build parts made of various metals such as titanium, stainless steel, nickel alloys, and cobalt chrome. LMD is a versatile technology that can be used in a wide range of industries, including aerospace, energy, and automotive, to create complex geometries, repair worn or damaged parts, and to produce customized parts.

The increasing adoption of laser cladding technology can be attributed to its distinctive features and capabilities across various end-use industries including automotive, mining, and aerospace. For instance, laser cladding process is used in the construction industry, as it increases the wear resistance of the construction equipment.

What are the trends in Additive Manufacturing industry?

1. Growing adoption in automotive industry fuels the demand for 3D printing

The high demand for 3D printing can be attributed to the presence of automotive manufacturing companies such as Tesla, Volkswagen, and General Motors among others, which use 3D printing or additive manufacturing to showcase new vehicle designs and concepts.

In the production process of a car, prototyping is a crucial step; thus, rapid prototyping in the pre-manufacturing stage is done through 3D printing. Large and detailed parts can be validated and tested using AM, which is the most suitable method for validating prototypes.

For instance, in September 2022, Tesla announced that it has used FDM 3D printing to produce spare parts for the Tesla Model so that it can address the manufacturing fault in the Model Y and start its production procedure.

2. Increased application in the healthcare sector fuels industrial expansion

The rising application of 3D digital printing in the healthcare sector to create prostheses, implants, and generate accurate prototypes of medical devices fuels the growth of the market. Also, 3D-printed models allow surgeons to practice complex surgical procedures on lifelike models and in turn improve their accuracy and speed of operation.

Further, dental industrymakes extensive use of additive manufacturing to create precise and specialized solutions for dental issues. For instance, in November 2019, 3D Systems received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its dental 3D printing material called Denture 3D+ and dental 3D printer NextDent 5100.

Other additive manufacturing applications include surgical cutting and drilling equipment, prosthetics, artificial organs, and designer pharmaceuticals which are designed by additive manufacturing technologies. For instance, in October 2021, Henkel launched a new class of 3D printing resins for healthcare applications under its leading Loctite brand. Henkel 3D printing resins are created and produced in compliance with ISO 13485 quality management standards to ensure uniformity in the design, development, production, and delivery of medical devices.

Future Prospects of Additive Manufacturing

Various industry experts and researchers are pursuing aggressive research and development (R&D) activities to create opportunities for several other efficient and reliable technologies. The introduction of 3D printers that can create prototypes of electronic components such as circuit boards (PCBs), antennae, capacitors, and sensors among others reduce manufacturing costs, which in turn is expected to create ample opportunities for the 3D printing market in coming years.

Moreover, the increasing demand for customization and personalization leads to the integration of 3D printing to produce customized products as per the requirement of the customer, which in turn, paves the way for the AM market in the near future. For instance, in 2020, Porsche introduced forty 3D print prototype seats for use on the European race tracks. In the future, the company further plans to personalize the seat to a customer’s specific body contour.

Leading Manufacturers of Additive Manufacturing

The top five players in the Additive Manufacturing Industry are Stratasys, General Electric, 3D Systems, Inc.,Formlabs Inc., and Protolabs, Inc. The additive manufacturing market is highly competitive, with more than 50 service providers worldwide. Leading players are strengthening their positions by using a variety of tactics, including new product releases, partnerships, collaborations, acquisitions, and business expansions.

About The Author:

Sunanda Ghosh is a researcher with more than 3 years of experience.She has a keen passion for understanding consumer behavior and market trends, and uses her skills to look for new and innovative ways to gather and analyze data. Throughout her career, she has worked with a diverse range of global clients across various industries including consumer goods, technology, semiconductor, and energy. She is dedicated to providing valuable insights that can help shape a company's direction and drive success. The author can be reached at sunanda.ghosh@nextmsc.com

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