Does additive manufacturing change everything?

Sheila Kennedy explores the world of printing parts in 3D.

By Sheila Kennedy

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Three-dimensional printing technology is increasingly useful in industrial maintenance environments. Otherwise known as additive manufacturing, it’s the process of making 3D objects from digital designs. Originally used to create product prototypes, the printers have advanced to where they can effectively and efficiently create final products. Manufacturers are responsible for much of that progress.

“The manufacturing industry is leading the way in adopting 3D printing to cut costs by revolutionizing development and prototyping processes, and I think the trend of adoption will continue in this sector,” says Jon Cobb, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Stratasys. “Manufacturers perform two-thirds of all private-sector R&D in the United States and lead to more innovation breakthroughs than any other sector. 3D printing is another tool in the manufacturing toolbox that complements the way these businesses are delivering products to market more efficiently and with more opportunity for customization.”

Innovative approaches to 3D printing of metal and plastic-like industrial parts and components are lowering printing costs and improving parts performance, while a 3D printing service is increasing the technology’s accessibility.

Printing metal parts

Ultrasonic additive manufacturing (UAM) fabricates 3D parts by using sound waves to merge very thin layers of metal foil, rather than melting metal powder like many other providers. Fabrisonic’s SonicLayer automated UAM systems combine additive processes to get near net shape, and CNC-based subtractive processes to get the final net shape. Because dissimilar metals can be joined into the same part, heat exchangers, embedded electronics, and custom materials are popular product applications.

“Fabrisonic is changing 3D metal printing without changing the metal properties. Since our UAM process is solid state, we are able to form true welds with temperatures no greater than 200 °F for aluminum. No melting occurs, further allowing the inclusion of wires and embedded sensors such as thermal couples and pressure transducers,” says Mark Norfolk, president at Fabrisonic.

Direct metal deposition (DMD) technology is used to fabricate functional 3D metal products using laser-based fusion of powdered metals. DM3D Technology’s patented DMD solutions are useful for remanufacturing, repair, surface treatment, multi-material manufacturing, and fabrication of components and parts, as well as adding features to existing parts.

“DMD is a metal additive technology that can produce fully dense parts directly from CAD data. Due to its ability to add metal onto an existing part, DMD can also be used to repair or remanufacture used or damaged parts and apply surface coatings for wear and corrosion resistance,” says Dr. Bhaskar Dutta, COO at DM3D Technology. “Unlike powder bed fusion technologies, DMD can handle medium to large part sizes, several feet in size, and enables multi-material manufacturing.”

Printing plastic-like parts

A new 3D printer is capable of printing extra-large and ultra-tall industrial prototypes, models, and products. The Replicator Z18 3D printer from MakerBot, a subsidiary of Stratasys, was named for its large z-axis that produces 3D prints up to 18 in. in height using a bioplastic PLA filament. It supports build volume of 12-by-12-by-18 in. and is able to print multiple models at once. Users who download the free MakerBot Mobile app can monitor, cancel, or pause the 3D prints from a smartphone and send notifications and alerts.

Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at sheila@addcomm.com.

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“The MakerBot Replicator Z18 is the most disruptive in its category based on its price and massive build volume. At $6,499, it is tens of thousands of dollars less than other 3D printers with its build volume,” says Jenifer Howard, director at MakerBot.

EnvisionTEC’s Xede 3SP large-format 3D printer enables rapid production of parts from STL files in 3D with build envelopes of 18-by18-by-x18 in. and the appropriate surface quality and part accuracy. Xede 3SP leverages EnvisionTEC’s 3SP (scan, spin, and selectively photocure) technology, in which a multi-cavity laser diode works in conjunction with an orthogonal mirror spinning at 20,000 rpm. Xede 3SP materials include ABS 3SP White, an ABS-like plastic resin that is suitable for MCAD applications such as mechanical or moving parts, industrial components, and snap-fit assemblies.

Parts-on-demand service

Those without a 3D printer can still leverage the technology on an outsourced basis. 3D Systems, a provider of 3D printers and associated technology, offers custom parts on demand through its Quickparts Solutions offering. Quickparts Solutions is a cloud-based 3D design-to-manufacturing service that delivers rapid prototypes, low-volume plastic and metal parts, production tooling and part options, and investment casting patterns.

Read Sheila Kennedy's monthly column, Technology Toolbox.

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