MINI launches custom 3D-printed parts service

MINI owners will be able to design their own parts using a new 3D printing and laser-etching service. The launch of MINI Yours Customised will be the first time such a service has been offered by a mainstream carmaker.

Owners will be able personalise a range of MINI components with their own name, a logo or a pattern. The parts can be ordered from the firm’s online shop and are claimed to take less than five minutes to fit, either by the owner or a local dealer.

They can be retrofitted to older MINI models and replaced with the standard part when the time comes to sell the car on.

When the service launches in March 2018, MINI owners will be able to put their stamp on a wide range of parts, including dashboard panels, LED-illuminated door sills, indicator inlays and puddle lights.

The high-grade metal and plastic components will be available in Aspen White, Chili Red, Starlight Blue, Moonwalk Grey and Jet Black – all with a matt finish initially, although other finishes will eventually be made available.

MINI says the components undergo the same durability testing as any other trim part, and should be resistant to fracture, fading or chipping.

Owners will be able to use an online configurator to create their design, using a variety of fonts and designs and can change the colour, size and finish of the pieces. MINI expects “a huge number” of orders from owners who have christened their car with its own name.

The parts will manufactured in Germany, made in 12 hours and can be delivered in four weeks.

Prices and specific restrictions will be announced early in 2018, but the cheapest parts are expected to cost from around £150. The trim pieces will initially be available for the three-door and five-door MINI Hatchbacks and the MINI Convertible, but the scheme will include the Countryman and Clubman at a later date.

GKN Launches into Aerospace 3D Printing

Although GE Additive may have become the star of metal 3D printing in the aerospace sector, British aerospace and automotive manufacturer GKN may have produced the most 3D printing-related aerospace news at the Paris Airshow last month.

After working with additive manufacturing (AM) technology for some time, GKN’s aerospace division decided to share with the public a number of achievements and partnerships the company has been up to, ranging from developing new metal AM technologies to producing novel components for rocket engines.

In the foreground is the Vulcain 2.1 demonstration nozzle, which is used for the Ariane 6 rocket and has over 50 kg of metal 3D printed onto the system. In the background is the Vulcain 2 nozzle for the previous Ariane 5 rocket. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

In the foreground is the Vulcain 2.1 demonstration nozzle, which is used for the Ariane 6 rocket and has over 50 kg of metal 3D printed onto the system. In the background is the Vulcain 2 nozzle for the previous Ariane 5 rocket. (Image courtesy of GKN.) spoke with Rob Sharman, global head of additive manufacturing at GKN, to learn about the company’s work in metal AM.

GKN Gets into Additive

GKN is a 5,100-person engineering firm and tier one supplier to some of the leading firms in aerospace and the automotive industry. According to Sharman, the company supplies critical airframe and engine parts to just about every major aerospace manufacturer, including the A350 wing spar, the canopy for the F-35 fighter, the wiring for the 737 and windows for Boeing aircraft.

“These are structural elements in aero engines and airframes,” Sharman explained. “We know how to develop highly critical engineering components and parts for the aerospace and automotive market. We understand the market, and we understand what it takes to get things flying. We had to learn to develop AM to meet those requirements.”

Sharman said that, about four years ago, it was decided that AM had a lot of potential for the company. In turn, GKN set up five Centres of Excellence devoted to different areas of 3D printing, including powder bed fusion, fine-scale deposition, large-scale deposition, materials development, and binder and powder activity. 

Industrial AM technology is quite complex, and nailing down the processes to produce parts for critical aerospace applications requires a great deal of expertise. Since adopting the technology, however, GKN seems to have developed that expertise. 

“Fundamentally, it’s all about the material and getting the material properties right,” Sharman said. “It’s getting your process control to be able to produce the right material properties, which is quite the challenge. A lot of people produce a lot of demonstrators and parts in the industry, and they have nice pictures, but unless it’s good quality with good engineering with good quality material in it, then it’s useless. It’s just a piece of art.”

3D Printing Parts for Saab

Demonstrating that expertise, GKN has spent the past year working with Saab to develop 3D-printed parts using metal powder bed technology, as well as ensuring that parts can be certified for use in aerospace. The partnership thus saw the successful delivery and certification of those parts, which are now flying on Saab aircraft. 

Metal parts made via powder bed fusion at GKN’s facility in Filton, UK. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

Metal parts made via powder bed fusion at GKN’s facility in Filton, UK. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

“We are continuing that partnership and developing more opportunities for how we apply the technology to Saab products, working with them to get those products onto aircraft and get them flying through certification,” Sharman explained. Together, Saab and GKN will extend that partnership, ramping up industrial capabilities, using new materials and designs as a means of cutting production lead times and costs. 

New AM Technology with ORNL

GKN also announced at the Paris Air Show that it had signed a five-year $17.8 million cooperative research and development agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to research metal AM technology. ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility will be utilized to develop a directed energy deposition (DED) process and to refine electron beam melting (EBM) for mass production.

“We’re already in production and have our own in-house laser metal deposition capability out of our engines business, which deposits features on engine structures,” Sharman explained. “We took that capability and we’re now working with ORNL to take that process and develop it for printing large aerospace structures.”

As a DED process, the laser metal deposition with wire (LMD-w) will use a laser to melt metal wire into beads onto a substrate. With ORNL, GKN will develop a prototype for creating complex medium- and large-scale titanium aircraft structures, including ribs, spars, bulkheads and frames. The company believes that it will be possible to cut material waste by 90 percent, while reducing manufacturing times by 50 percent.

“Laser wire deposition is one of those processes that we believe is scalable for larger structures,” Sharman said. “We’re looking at producing near-netshape parts to reduce waste and reduce the cost of large machined parts for aero structures. The longer-term goal is to then optimize weight savings and the longevity of the part.”

GKN’s laser wire deposition system. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

GKN’s laser wire deposition system. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

Whereas DED processes will be typically be used to produce large-scale parts, such as structural components, powder bed fusion processes are more likely implemented for a series of small parts or medium-scale components.

GKN’s Centre of Excellence in Bristol focuses on both laser powder bed and EBM 3D printing, determining which process is suitable for which applications. As a part of the ORNL partnership, GKN will be looking to produce complex small- to medium-sized components at high volumes. 

Flying the Optical Ice Detector

As a developer of electro thermal ice protection systems (IPS), which are designed to keep ice from forming on aircraft, GKN created its patented Optical Ice Detector (OID). Necessary for the project was a titanium housing, which was 3D printed by GKN with its powder bed expertise.

The OID relies on a small sensor head made up of optical fibers that project laser light onto any ice that forms on the device. The OID can be attached to any surface of an aircraft or internal area of gas turbine engines where ice might accumulate. The OID allows for more precise control over an aircraft’s IPS by implementing the IPS system only where ice forms, instead of throughout the entire IPS system. 

The OID system, attached to a research aircraft. (Image courtesy of the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements.)

The OID system, attached to a research aircraft. (Image courtesy of the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements.)

GKN announced at the Paris Air Show that the company successfully flew the OID on a research aircraft, detecting real-world ice accumulation events and matching device performance in the company’s Icing Research Tunnel in the UK. In addition to detecting the ice itself, the OID measured its thickness and rate of accumulation.

For this product, AM was used for its ability to provide a quick turnaround, rather than create complex structures, according to Sharman. “In that particular case, it was all about the timing,” Sharman said. “We had a window of opportunity in which to fly that demonstrator on the research aircraft, and that window was very short. AM had a lead-time advantage compared to the other processes, and we were able to get the final part in a way that traditional manufacturing technology just couldn’t.” 

3D Printing Rocket Nozzles

GKN also used 3D printing to produce the Ariane 6 nozzle for Airbus Safran Launchers for the Vulcain 2.1 rocket engine. Through the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Ariane Research and Technology Accompaniment Program, GKN leveraged laser welding and laser metal deposition to produce the massive nozzle, measuring 2.5 m in diameter. GKN will supply five subsystems for each Ariane 6 rocket that Airbus Safran Launchers aims to manufacture, including four turbine assembles for the two Ariane 6 engines.

Sharman pointed out that GKN has been a part of the Ariane program for some time. In fact, GKN has participated in the program since it began in 1974, producing more than 1,000 combustion chambers and nozzles, in addition to more than 250 turbines, for Ariane rockets since its inception. 

“GKN supplied the Ariane 5 nozzles, and now we have supplied the Ariane 6 nozzle to ESA and Airbus Safran Launchers,” Sharman explained. “We used laser deposition on the nozzle product, which is a highly complex nickel super alloy product.”

The Vulcain 2.1 rocket nozzle, which reduced the part count from about 1,000 to just 100. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

The Vulcain 2.1 rocket nozzle, which reduced the part count from about 1,000 to just 100. (Image courtesy of GKN.)

GKN’s laser wire process saw the deposition of more than 50 kg of material used to reinforce the structure of the nozzle, as well as join parts. By using AM to produce key structural features of the nozzle, the company could reduce the part count on the nozzle from about 1,000 to just 100 parts, ultimately resulting in a 90 percent drop in part count, 40 percent reduction in costs and 30 percent reduction in production time.

The challenge for producing the nozzle was adapting the technology to a new material, according to Sharman. “Obviously, on a large rocket, that is a big engineering challenge,” Sharman said. “The process used was our laser wire process that we’ve got in house. The challenge was developing it for a different material, a nickel alloy in this instance. AM is a multiparametric process, which is kind of its curse. There is a large matrix of different variables. Whichever process you have focuses on understanding each of those variables and how they affect the thermal flow and energy input. It’s about tailoring that for the material to get the material properties you require for each geometry.”

The nozzle has already been successfully tested and will now be mounted to the Vulcain 2.1 engine for further testing. As Airbus Safran Launchers preps for the launch of the Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, GKN aims to manufacture the nozzle using a “highly automated” manufacturing center in Trollhättan, Sweden, which is set to open in 2018.

In 2012, Airbus published a video detailing its plans to 3D print an entire aircraft by the year 2050. As fantastical as that vision was, we’ve seen tremendous progress toward that goal in just five years—not just from Airbus, but from its suppliers, like GKN. 

From establishing five AM centers in 2013 to the Paris Air Show in 2017, GKN has already produced numerous parts that will see 3D printing move from the Earth to the skies and beyond. To learn more, visit the GKN additive manufacturing website.

Oxfam launches VR film, trials 3D printing and sensor tech

Evelyn watches the Oxfam film, which she stars in, using a Samsung Gear VR headset.

International charity Oxfam is leveraging new technologies to spread the word about crises happening around the globe, as well as exploring the use of 3D printing, drones and internet of things sensors as new ways of delivering aid and solving problems in the developing world.

On Tuesday, Oxfam is set to launch a virtual reality film called Evelyn’s Story, allowing viewers to experience the arduous journey of an 11-year-old Kenyan girl searching for water in the drought-ridden Turkana county.

When Oxfam filmed the short film (which was made in conjunction with the Sydney-based production company Flimgraphics and Alt VFX), the young girl’s family could only get access to clean water for about two hours every eight days, so were often forced to risk diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, using whatever they could find.

Oxfam Australia director of public engagement, Pam Anders, told The Australian Financial Review it was the first time it had used virtual reality, but if it goes well it will continue to use them to help show what it is trying to achieve.

“Virtual reality is something that’s become more accessible in the past 12 months in terms of people being able to access headsets off the shelf, so it was a great opportunity for us to look at because it gives the viewer an amazing opportunity to be virtually connected,” she said.

“It’s like you’re there. It’s very disorienting when you first put the headset on and you’re able to direct what you see. You can look beyond the subject to see what’s above or behind you. Many of my staff and myself were emotionally moved.”

Inspiring experience

Watching the film in virtual reality, the viewer feels like they’re in the bare, arid desert of northern Kenya desperately searching for water alongside Evelyn. Ms Anders hopes the immersive experience will inspire people to donate more money.

Besides virtual reality, Oxfam has also been utilising new technologies in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Since the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the organisation has been trialling 3D printing of water pipes and fittings in partnership with the not-for-profit Field Ready and a local 3D printing company. 

“What we’ve found is it’s been a much quicker way to produce the spare parts. We want to keep doing this, but the challenge now is how to get the right materials locally, so it’s more sustainable and weather-proof, and how to keep the costs low, and where along the chain of vendors it’s best to introduce 3D printing. It’s going well so far, but there are still elements to resolve,” Ms Anders said.

In Sri Lanka, Oxfam has also been placing sensors in dams and water pipes to measure the amount of rainfall in real time. This is helping farmers to make insurance claims during floods. If rainfall hits a certain level in the dam, farmers in the region receive an SMS generated by the sensor.

“One of the problems this was trying to solve was that local insurance schemes were really difficult for farmers to access because they didn’t have evidence of the rainfall or flooding. Since we implemented these sensors there’s been an increase in payouts to farmers – last year there was over 110,000,” Ms Anders said.

Other charities adopting new tech

Oxfam’s use of cutting edge technologies is just one example of ways that not-for-profit and inter governmental organisations are using new-age tech to help tackle problems in developing nations and countries plagued by internal conflict.

In May the United Nation’s World Food Programme concluded a trial using the ethereum blockchain, giving Syrian refugees resources by giving them cryptocurrency-based vouchers to be redeemed in participating markets.

Oxfam’s 2014 Even it Up report found that seven out of 10 people live in countries where the gap between rich and poor is greater than it was 30 years ago. Oxfam has also found that over the last 25 years, the top 1 per cent has gained more income than the bottom 50 per cent put together.

World Vision has also been building up its technology capability and has partnered with US companies Fieldworker and Intermec to build the Last Mile Mobile Solution (LMMS), which helps the charity to register and verify aid beneficiaries, distribute food, prevent duplication errors and reduce inventory losses.

The LMMS devices work in remote locations without electricity or internet access, but let aid beneficiaries register and receive their own barcoded ID card.

The system has let World Vision deliver materials like food, tents, hygiene kits and mosquito nets in up to 50 per cent less time than through manual methods.

Techniplas launches 3D printing division headed by former 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental

Jun 16, 2017 | By Tess

Techniplas LLC, a plastic fabrication company based in Nashotah, Wisconsin, has announced plans to establish a 3D printing center. The facility will be used to accelerate product development through the digitization of the company’s operations. 

Techniplas, known best for injection molding automotive parts, will be venturing into the world of additive manufacturing under experienced leadership: Avi Reichental, the former president, chief executive officer, and director of 3D Systems (as well as a member of the board of directors for Nano Dimension), has been appointed as CEO of the new Techniplas Digital business unit.

“It’s coming to life as we speak,” said Reichental of the new additive manufacturing center. In fact, Techniplas has reportedly already set up about a dozen 3D printers at its facility in Ventura, California. The company says it will primarily focus its 3D printing efforts on direct metal printing for rapid tooling development.

Specifically, Techniplas hopes to leverage 3D printing for metal inserts used in standard mold bases, which will help to speed up the toolmaking process. “It’s the future of short-run manufacturing,” added Reichental, emphasizing that manufacturing in general is headed towards a hybrid of both traditional and new processes.

Avi Reichental

In addition to direct metal printing, Techniplas will also be using UV polymer curing 3D printing systems. These will enable the company to quickly and efficiently develop complex and lightweight automotive components from plastic.

The new additive manufacturing center is part of Techniplas’ larger effort to digitize its business, a goal that is being helped along by the company’s Digital division, established to accelerate “the migration of smart technologies from the edge of development to the company’s core operations.”

According to Reichental, Techniplas is prepared for the shift thanks to its long history of design and manufacturing within the automotive industry. “Through deep learning capabilities and generative design, the company has the capacity to make new products and services that are reshaping mobility,” the company says.

As part of its digitization process, Techniplas is aiming to expand upon its cognitive connective systems for auto applications. These include air and water management systems; smart grille shutters, which help to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency; and cognitive lighting systems, which are designed to improve communication between car, driver, and pedestrians.

“For decades, we’ve been designing and making some of the most complex and challenging components and assemblies for the automotive industry,” said Chief Operating Officer Manfred Kwade. “Now we’re applying this knowledge to the new age of automotive design and manufacturing to make our customer’s journey to digital mobility a reality.”

While the company is based in Nashotah, Wisconsin, Techniplas will be implementing its new digital technologies globally, including in Germany and Switzerland, where it has R&D centers. The company is reporteldy also planning a digitized, data-centric management system which will connect its facilities around the globe.

To aid in the digitization process, Techniplas has also partnered with a number of companies and institutions including Stanford University, ParaMatters, Rinspeed, Nexa3D, and XponentialWorks, which was founded by Reichental.

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Ultimaker launches Pioneer Program to bring 3D printing into K-12 and higher education

Aug 16, 2016 | By Benedict

Ultimaker has announced the official launch of the Ultimaker Pioneer Program, an online resource-sharing initiative which encourages educators in North America to share useful 3D printing content in order to advance the widespread adoption of 3D printing technologies in K-12 and higher education.

Dutch 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker is perhaps best known for its range of highly regarded, open-source FDM 3D printers, but the company is branching out into new territory with the launch of the Ultimaker Pioneer Program. The new initiative sees the Geldermalsen-headquartered company attempting to increase the presence of additive manufacturing in classrooms and universities across North America by providing a platform for additive-literate teachers to share resources, knowledge, and other useful content while maintaining ownership of their materials through Creative Commons Attribution, Share-Alike, and Non-Commercial licensing.

The Ultimaker Pioneer Program has already made its way across 21 states, with 58 educators—from elementary school teachers to college professors—now listed amongst the ranks of educational 3D printing “Pioneers.” By encouraging these contributors to share resources such as 3D printing lessons, programs, labs, and classroom experiences, Ultimaker hopes that the ambitious program will facilitate collaboration and innovation amongst educators, eventually culminating into a series of modern curricula which teachers can use to effectively bring 3D printers into the classroom.

“Teaching 3D modeling and printing in our schools is a relatively new educational endeavor and faculty are on the front lines, figuring out the best methods of teaching as we continue to learn about the topic ourselves,” said Burton Isenstein, an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. “It’s smart to tap into what’s already happening in classrooms throughout the world and the Ultimaker Pioneer Program will help educators build a base of knowledge upon everyone’s experience.”

Ultimaker Pioneer Burton Isenstein of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago

Throughout the course of the year, Ultimaker will be posting an ongoing stream of 3D printing content from the inaugural 58 Pioneers, as well as other updates and educational 3D printing news. The program will also transcend online content: next spring, Ultimaker will host the First Annual 3D Printing Educators Conference, where many of the Pioneers will be present for talks, panel sessions, and hands-on training workshops.

In preparation for the start of the new school year, Ultimaker has featured five special articles, written by select Pioneers, which teachers can get stuck into straight away. The articles cover topics such as: teaching students how to 3D scan and print museum artifacts, creating 3D printed prosthetics, and seeing a university 3D printing lab from a student staff member’s perspective. “We’re thrilled to facilitate this program, assisting in enhancing the way young generations create with technology,” commented John Kawola, President of Ultimaker North America.

Scanning and 3D printing museum arifacts, a Pioneer resource shared by Christopher Sweeney

As a proponent of open-source 3D printing technologies, Ultimaker should be commended for remaining principled in its creation of the Pioneer Program: the company has stressed that the educators and their resources will be supported “regardless of what kinds of 3D printers they use in their classrooms,” precluding any bias towards Ultimaker-branded products in the Pioneers’ content.

Although Ultimaker has never before embarked upon an educational project on this kind of scale, The Pioneer Program does not represent the company’s first movements within the education sector. Earlier this year, the Dutch company linked up with the University of Illinois and online education platform Coursera to provide 17 new Ultimaker 3D printers for the Illinois MakerLab and create a series of free online 3D printing classes.

Ultimaker is already looking to recruit the next round of Pioneers, and educators with a passion for 3D printing are encouraged to apply.

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