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Latest trends and challenges in 3D printing

Latest trends and challenges in 3D printing


3D Printing was recently named by Goldman Sachs as one of eight technologies that are going to creatively destroy how we do business. Let’s take a look at some of the areas where 3D printing is all set to make a difference in the near future.

As the new industrial strength: Jewellery and toy industry were the first to adopt 3D printing. However, realising its potential other industries like medical, aerospace, automotive, industrial application have adopted the technology to produce some complex products. This trend will continue to grow; rather, it will drive the growth of 3D printing.

On one hand, when NASA is committed to bring a 3D printer onto the space station by 2014, Boeing has made over 20,000 parts using 3D printers that have been used in military aircraft, and there has not been a single part failure so far. While thinking of AM in space, few things immediately come to mind. The need for such technology is apparent as we attempt to support longer human exploration missions.

Impact on society: In 2012, an 83-year-old patient with a serious jaw infection became the first person to receive a complete 3D-printed titanium lower jaw implant. The combined effort by researchers and engineers from Belgium and the Netherlands were said to have allowed the patient unrestricted mandibular movement within a day of surgery. This perfectly exemplifies the kinds of changes 3D printing can bring in the medical and surgical industry. In recent years, it has been in the news for being successfully used in bone implants, dental implants and hearing aids among others.

In medical implants, all the products are different from each other; on a moresophisticated scale, medical devices like earpieces, dentures and replacement joints could be 3D printed, as most of these need to be customised.

Innovations: After receiving a head start from industries like jewellery, medical, aerospace, toy making and automobile among others, 3D printing is ready to take on new challenges. Ever heard of printing meat….yes you heard it right, MEAT!!. Modern Meadow, a Columbia-based company has come up with this wild and wacky concept. The idea is to combine 3D printing technology and tissue engineering to develop meat. The concept might be the model for the farm of the future. This is not all; a teen in US recently developed a complete 3D printed gun.

Day-to-day life: US President Barak Obama very famously declared in this year’s State of the Union address, 3D printing technology “has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything.” With its user friendly operation and innovations, it will surely help the technology become cheaper and a common household will be able to use 3D printing to develop household products.

Construction: Just like engineers, architects too need to create mock-ups of their designs. 3D printers allow them to come up with these mock-ups in a short period of time with a higher degree of accuracy. These 3D models also make it easier to visualise a design.

Though there are all the above benefits of 3D printing, there are a few challenges that researchers will have to overcome in order to make the technology completely acceptable.

Before we look at the technical aspects of AM in detail, we must take a broad view of the difficulties that AM faces as a revolutionary tool in the spheres of technology, business and culture. AM is not just a technology, it is also a fundamental shift from the way designing and manufacturing have usually been done till now.

A majority of designers have been brought up in an environment of traditional manufacturing methods, influenced and limited in their design by conventional processes. This not only limits the kind of products that can be manufactured, but also makes manufacturers and designers reluctant to eagerly embrace additive technologies it.

Then there is the need to develop a wider variety of materials and properties for AM. The technology needs to be made suitable for industrial production to handle huge volumes, bulky parts under stringent quality standards. Businesses need to look less at AM as a means to effectively market products for broad applications, and more to leverage the unique capabilities of AM in specialised applications, like hearing implants.

There are two major barriers to the increased adoption of AM; a perception of high costs, ie, heavy capital associated with the technology, and lack of education or awareness of the available techniques & capabilities of various additive machines. Apart from these obstacles, there are a few technical challenges which include material, equipment, cost, methodology and applications, which need to be overcome for AM to realise its potential.
– Developing the Materials: Although AM uses an extensive variety of materials and material combinations, there is still a need for more materials and greater variety.
– Production Methodology: The challenge here is to develop monitoring systems, closed-loop feedback systems and in-process evaluation methods for AM processes. This would enable reliable, consistent and uniform production of AM parts.
– Bulk Manufacturing: This is the biggest challenge when it comes to the use of AM. It is still not ready to be used for mass production.

By Nishant Kashyap