From Additive Manufacturing to 3D Printing: Breakthrough Innovations: Programmable Material, 4D Printing and Bio-printing

With a turnover of some 5-15 billion € / year, the additive manufacturing has industrial niches bearers thanks to processes and materials more and more optimized. While some niches still exist on the application of additive techniques in traditional fields (from jewelery to food for example), several trends emerge, using new concepts: collective production, realization of objects at once (without addition Of material), micro-fluidic, 4D printing exploiting programmable materials and materials, bio-printing, etc. There are both opportunities for new markets, promises not envisaged less than 10 years ago, but difficulties in reaching them.

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Trends in Additive Manufacturing for end-use production with LPW Technology

3D Printing Industry is taking an in depth look at how additive manufacturing is moving to production. Over the coming weeks the results of interviews with industry leading practitioners will be published.

This article is part of a series examining Trends in Additive Manufacturing for End-Use Production.

Ben Ferrar is Chief Operating Officer at LPW Technology Ltd. As suppliers of well defined powders and services to support production customers and research partners, LPW is dedicated to making Additive Manufacturing a reality in critical production environments.

3D Printing Industry: What is your percentage estimate of how much your materials are used for AM production versus other applications?

Ben Ferrar: LPW’s comprehensive range of metal powders is fully characterised and optimised exclusively for AM – we don’t manufacture for any other sector – which is one of the reasons why our powders are used in over 50% of the AM machines installed worldwide.

The difficulty with the question is, how do we define ‘production’? If you were to consider both full production – tens of machines producing thousands of parts for a period of years, and serial production – several machines producing the same part (or customised designs of the same application) for months, together, then that would account for circa 50% of our powder sales. The other 50% is used for prototyping, in bureaus, universities, and Research and Development facilities.

It’s the combination of all of these approaches that will lead to the level of understanding of AM that will eventually see it regarded simply as a reliable production method, no longer a novel disruptive technology.

3DPI: Do you have an estimate of the addressable market for AM in production?

BF: We estimate that 1,000 of the 3,000 AM machines worldwide could be considered in production, using the definitions above, rather than prototyping.

3DPI: Which industries are leading in the use of AM for production?

BF: Several sectors are already in the vanguard of technical development and serial production for AM. AM is application-driven, the key to capitalising on the benefits it can offer is identifying the designs and components where it adds value. For example, in aerospace, IGT and energy, this is light-weighting, creating complex internal channels, and consolidating components; in medical applications, it’s integrating porous geometrics and introducing customisation. As these industries demonstrate the advantages of utilising AM, so others such as automotive are following.

GE, among others, is certainly helping to drive the adoption of AM technologies by publicising its commitment to the sector, and by bringing investment into the supply chain.

3DPI: What barriers does AM face for production and how are these surmountable? 

BF: In manufacturing, cost is always an important consideration. We are finding that at this point, many of the companies moving towards production are less concerned about the cost of implementation than they are about the cost of getting it wrong. Managing the risk associated with introducing a disruptive technology into production cycles is one of the biggest barriers to overcome.

Powder degradation, contamination, and management of the powder throughout its lifecycle, are all areas where producers can lack confidence. Here at LPW we view AM from the perspective of the powder – using high-quality metal feedstock will give the best possible chance of achieving the required mechanical properties in the final built part. The most important metric is not necessarily powder cost per kg but overall cost per part. If you get a longer life from a better powder, often the part cost is less.

We believe that supporting manufacturers by giving them the tools to control their feedstock will improve repeatability and accelerate the adoption of AM. To do this, we’ve developed end to end solutions with PowderLife, a suite of software and hardware that will transport, store, monitor, quarantine, track and trace powders. In this way, we’re reducing risk and adding confidence in the production process.

3DPI:  Are there any notable trends in AM for end use production?

BF: Industries are choosing to manufacture low volume, high-value components to learn about the technology, which makes sense. However, the validation and sustainability of the mechanical properties of high volume components for critical applications will be the tipping point for wide-scale uptake of AM technologies.

3DPI: Can you name any specific case studies where AM is used for end use production?

BF: Many of our customers ask us not to share their details, or even their industry specifics. However, we can say production ranges from IGT repair and aerospace hydraulic applications to medical devices and guides.

3DPI: Is there anything else you’d like to highlight in this area?

BF: New AM alloys will open up many new opportunities for AM, but they are still some way off being used widely. One of the key factors is timescales: AM is being used NOW and must leverage alloys which were designed for other processing routes.

New alloys will unlock more of the potential of AM in the future, but each will be subjected to acceptance and validation for its particular application(s). In industries like aerospace, this might take many years. It’s a good time to be exploring these materials, but this should not divert efforts away from existing alloys where there is still interesting work to be done and improvements to be made.

At LPW we’re investing in the future of alloy development, and working hard to refine, update and tighten the specifications for existing materials to ensure they deliver the results and mechanical properties that manufacturers demand.  

Nominations for the 2018 3D Printing Industry Awards are now open. Let us know who is leading the industry.

For more information about LPW Technology Ltd is available here.

This article is part of a series examining Trends in Additive Manufacturing for End-Use Production.

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Additive Manufacturing of Metals: From Fundamental Technology to Rocket Nozzles, Medical Implants, and Custom Jewelry (Springer Series in Materials Science)

This engaging volume presents the exciting new technology of additive manufacturing (AM) of metal objects for a broad audience of academic and industry researchers, manufacturing professionals, undergraduate and graduate students, hobbyists, and artists. Innovative applications ranging from rocket nozzles to custom jewelry to medical implants illustrate a new world of freedom in design and fabrication, creating objects otherwise not possible by conventional means.

The author describes the various methods and advanced metals used to create high value components, enabling readers to choose which process is best for them. Of particular interest is how harnessing the power of lasers, electron beams, and electric arcs, as directed by advanced computer models, robots, and 3D printing systems, can create otherwise unattainable objects.

A timeline depicting the evolution of metalworking, accelerated by the computer and information age, ties AM metal technology to the rapid evolution of global technology trends. Charts, diagrams, and illustrations complement the text to describe the diverse set of technologies brought together in the AM processing of metal. Extensive listing of terms, definitions, and acronyms provides the reader with a quick reference guide to the language of AM metal processing. The book directs the reader to a wealth of internet sites providing further reading and resources, such as vendors and service providers, to jump start those interested in taking the first steps to establishing AM metal capability on whatever scale. The appendix provides hands-on example exercises for those ready to engage in experiential self-directed learning.

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Navy Additive Manufacturing (AM): Adding Parts, Subtracting Steps – 3D Printing, Tooling, Aerospace, Binder Jetting, Directed Energy Deposition, Material Extrusion, Powder Fusion, Photopolymerization

This report examines additive manufacturing (AM) and describes its potential impact on the Navy’s Supply Chain Management processes. Included in the analysis is the implementation of 3D printing technology and how it could impact the Navy’s future procurement processes, specifically based on a conducted analysis of the automotive aerospace industry. Industry research and development has identified multiple dimensions of AM technology, including material variety, cost saving advantages, and lead-time minimizations for manufacturing products. This project is designed to provide the Navy with a recommendation based on an in-depth industry case-study analysis. CHAPTER I * INTRODUCTION * A. OVERVIEW * B. REPORT ORGANIZATION * CHAPTER II * LITERATURE REVIEW * A. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING HISTORY * B. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING OVERVIEW * C. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING PROCESSES AND METHODS * 1. Binder Jetting * 2. Directed Energy Deposition * 3. Material Extrusion * 4. Material Jetting * 5. Powder Bed Fusion * 6. Sheet Lamination * 7. Vat Photopolymerization * D. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING USES AND BENEFITS * E. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES, ISSUES, AND CONCERNS * F. NAVY PROCUREMENT PROCESS * G. SUMMARY * CHAPTER III * METHODOLOGY * A. MULTIPLE CASE-STUDY ANALYSIS * B. IMPLEMENTATION * C. SUMMARY * CHAPTER IV * CASE ANALYSIS * A. BIG INDUSTRY: ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING IN AVIATION AND AUTOMOTIVE MANUFACTURING * 1. Automotive Industry * a. General Motors Financial Troubles * b. Costs * c. Additive Manufacturing in Tooling Process * d. Application in Production of Parts * 2. Aerospace Industry * 3. Boeing Aviation Corporation * 4. Additive Manufacturing Developments * B. CONCLUSIONS * CHAPTER V * IMPLEMENTATION * A. INDUSTRY APPLICATIONS * B. MILITARY APPLICATIONS * C. IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS AND CRITERIA * D. MILITARY ISSUES WITH AM * 1. Parts Testing and Certification * 2. Information Security * 3. Intellectual Property Infringement * 4. Personnel Training and Skill Set Development * E. ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING PROCESSES DEPLOYED * CHAPTER VI * CONCLUSION * A. SUMMARY

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China embraces smart factory technology in manufacturing arms race with Germany, Japan

China is turning to foreign robotics and smart factory technologies to enhance competitiveness as it seeks to close the gap in manufacturing prowess with Japan and Germany by 2035 under Premier Li Keqiang’s “Made in China” strategy.

Faced with rising labour costs owing to its shrinking labour force, China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s largest industrial robot market. Industrial robot sales in China this year are estimated to reach US$4.2 billion, according to the Chinese Institute of Electronics.

But a lack of core technology means the nation has been highly dependent on foreign supply.

Imports from well established overseas major producers such as Swedish-Swiss firm ABB, Germany’s Kuka, and Japan’s Fanuc and Yaskawa Electric account for more than 60 per cent of all robots bought by Chinese manufacturers.

For specialised six-axis robots, which provide greater flexibility and applications than earlier generations, overseas manufacturers account for 90 per cent of market share in China, according to a Huatai Securities research report.

In a move that signals the growing importance of the mainland market, German industrial giant Siemens said last week that its China subsidiary will lead the company’s global effort in research in autonomous robotics.

“The decision is based on two factors,” Siemens’ chief technology officer Roland Busch told reporters last week at a marketing event in Suzhou. “First, China is Siemens’ second largest overseas market after the US, and second, China has outstanding talent.”

Siemens said its robot research centre will begin operating later this year at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The 170 year-old company, which entered the China market by introducing the electric pointer telegraph in 1872, does not make robots itself, but supplies hardware and software that controls them.

The Chinese robot market is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 23.4 per cent in the four years to 2019, much faster than global shipment growth of 13 per cent, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

This means 39 per cent of new supply could go to China in 2019, up from 27 per cent in 2015.

The need to upgrade and automate factory facilities is driven both by rising production costs and changing consumer demand.

China’s labour force is forecast to contract by about 10 million each year for the next eight years, stoking inflationary pressures on wages, Huatai Securities’ analysts said.

China’s labour costs have risen at an average annual rate of 12.3 per cent between 2010 and 2015, before easing to around 7.5 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, since hitting a peak in 2013, equipment costs have been easing, effectively lowering the entry barrier for factories seeking to automate or update existing robot operations.

New generations of industrial robots are more nimble, intelligent and can collaborate with other robots and humans, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.

“They will be smaller and better at performing particular tasks, since they have more sensors to collect data and control operations,” Busch said.

The share of tasks performed by robots is projected to rise to 25 per cent across all manufacturing industries by 2025, from 10 per cent in 2015, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group.

The improvement will slash average manufacturing labour costs by 18 to 25 per cent in China, Germany, US and Japan, the report said.

Robot adoption should also be seen as a benefit in enhancing efficiency, reduce human error and releasing workers from mundane tasks.

“Smart” factory and production lines collect and analyse data, enabling managers to make better decisions to optimise operations.

The concept refers to the ability to independently exchange and respond to information to manage the production processes.

Siemens’ “digital factory” division, which sells solutions for improving manufacturing flexibility and efficiencies, booked net profit of 1.69 billion (HK$15.8 billion), the third biggest profit contributor in the company in the 12 months to September 30 last year.

The division’s net profit margin of 16.6 per cent was also the second highest in the company after health care and excluding financial services.

Robotics and digitisation are part of strategies outlined in the “Made in China 2025” plan unveiled by Premier Li Keqiang in 2015.

Other technologies highlighted in the plan include 3D printing, big data analytics, bioengineering, new energy and new materials.

Li aims to transform China into “strong” manufacturing nation in a decade, and match the strengths of Germany and Japan as leading innovators in certain industries in two decades.

While Beijing has ploughed 900 million yuan to support the 3D printing industry, most of the progress remains in the research stage, with limited commercialisation.

“There are plenty of 3D printing companies in China, but the largest one has a market capitalisation of just over 2 billion yuan, 10 to 20 times smaller than its global rivals,” said Huang Weidong, president of Xi’an Bright Additive Technologies, a 3D printing technology supplier.

Li’s 2025 plan is often discussed together with “Industrie 4.0”, the strategic initiative adopted by Germany in 2010 to establish the nation as a provider of advanced manufacturing solutions.

The initiative aims to shift German manufacturing towards a “decentralised, autonomous and smart” model.

“China’s Made in China 2025 strategy is different from Germany’s Industrie 4.0 in the sense that the Chinese strategy is more target oriented,” said Wu Cheng, a professor at Tsinghua University’s department of automation and the director of State CIMS Engineering Research Centre.

China aims to shift from low value added activities to quality medium to high end products under national brands.

To help achieve this goal, Beijing has encouraged companies to spend an average of 1.6 per cent of sales on research and development by 2025, up from 0.95 per cent in 2015.

The world’s top 1,000 corporate investors on research and development had an average R&D spending ratio of 3.7 per cent in 2015, according to accounting and consulting firm PwC.