The 3D printing technology of today has its origins in the early 1980s when it was primarily used for high-speed prototyping. It has evolved over the years to now being used in different industries, from automotive and aerospace to healthcare and consumer goods for a wide variety of applications. A few years ago, one couldn’t have imagined such a high-end designing marvel, and if not for the extensive digitization, we would have never been able to acquire the benefits of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, as it’s popularly known.

Today, one can take designing to all-new levels with the help of this multi-faceted technology that can speed up component designing for automobiles, aircraft, industrial goods, medical devices, toys, beauty products, and the list goes on. The technology needs no tooling and can bring down lead times to a minimum. This apart, it is being considered as one of the most affordable means to create complex designs for geometric components, as compared to the traditional system of manufacturing. The pace at which additive manufacturing creates physical components from digital files is unmatched and can help the companies increase their rate of production by leaps and bounds.

According to a global analysis, additive manufacturing in North America alone contributes to about $3.1 trillion, which is somewhere around 19% of the US GDP. In fact, 37.2% of the global 3D printing industry is held by the US alone, making it the hub of this amazing technology. Another report reveals that the value of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry is set to grow from $714.5 million in 2017 to about 3,057.9 million by 2022.

Now, that’s something to take note of. What’s so great about this technology that the aerospace industry is adopting it so fast and in such haste? Let’s shed some light on that, shall we?

Whenever an industry appears keener to adopt a new technology or make an upgrade, there should be something about that upgrade that helps them overcome the current challenges. So, if we can just focus on the challenges being faced by this sector, we can realize the benefits that 3D printing offers them.

Reduce the weight of complex structures 

Additive Layer Manufacturing or ALM is a layer-by-layer designing and manufacturing process that doesn’t depend on too many components to create seamless designs of complex structures. As maintaining a limit in the weight of aircraft, spacecraft, and defense vehicles are mandatory in aerospace, 3D printing is one effective way to meet the demands without compromising safety, speed, fuel efficiency, or even the aircraft’s payload.

In the conventional manufacturing processes, one may need to remove parts to create a definite structure, but in ALM, you can create it layer-by-layer, right from the base to the top, thus reducing waste and manufacturing costs as well. Even if you need to add some parts, it can be done easily without generating a lot of waste, and all within the weight limits. Efficient waste management by the ALM technology can thus benefit Mother Earth besides increasing the bottom line of the industry.

Updating aircraft interiors

The aircraft interiors need to be updated from time to time to increase customization and replace outdating components, like the wall panels. While the need for customization automatically points at low volume production and increased expenses, the ALM technology can help overcome such challenges effectively.

Traditional processes, like injection molding, are pricey and also quite complex, requiring several conditions and specializations. On the other hand, 3D printing can help create lightweight components, even the complex ones, such as lattice panels, without additional expenses. This results in faster production and updating, that too keeping within the weight limits.

Outsourcing military equipment

In defense, on-site manufacturing is of key importance, because of security requirements. However, the complexity of manufacturing several defense components and structures, like a circuit board and antenna prototypes for surveillance drones, hulls or submarines, and jet engines, forces them to outsource such processes to third-parties. But with the advent of 3D printing, the defense manufacturing companies can produce such components in volumes on site. The engineers are highly excited to explore this apparently-new technology to bring back the power in the hands of their in-house manufacturers.

Customized tools and equipment

Previously, manufacturing processes like CNC was used to mile bespoke tools and equipment, which increased the manufacturing costs without reducing lead times. Tools like fixtures and jigs were produced in about 5-6 weeks, which is quite high, not to mention the additional expenses. The aerospace industry has heaved a sigh of relief with the widespread integration of ALM, as it reduces the lead times of such production by more than 90% and the costs by 40%. So, it’s a win-win situation for the aerospace manufacturing units, as the tools, no matter how customized, can be created in about a day or less.

If one can focus on consistency, seamless quality, scalability, and proper measurements for large components, this technology is going to heave profits for the industry at large and may even go to the extent of reducing aviation costs.

So, how did this technology evolve over the years? Scroll on!

The evolution of 3D printing – A little history that isn’t boring

Somewhere in the 80s, Charles Hull, an engineer in the US, patented stereolithography, a 3D printing process akin to the one of today, using UV light and an STL format, which was developed by him too, to create 3D components from digital files to help manufacturers test their designs and prototypes without investing much in traditional manufacturing. A few years later, eminent inventor, Cark R Deckard developed and patented the SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) to produce 3D components layer by layer in no time by using powdered grains. Near the end of the 80s, Scott Crump, another innovator, took the technology a step ahead by introducing the Fused Deposition Modelling that created the 3D layers by using heat. The 90s saw a wide expansion of the technology, as in 1994, the first 3D wax printer was developed by Solidscape, and in 1999, Stratasys (Crump’s 3D printing company) came up with the first-ever 3D printer for both hard and soft components.

Coming to the 2000s, the technology witnessed further advancements in the form of sprayed materials, micro casting, additive manufacturing of metal parts, and started getting integrated into the healthcare industry to create prototypes of advanced medical equipment, as well as synthetic organs and other body parts. However, it wasn’t before 2006 that additive manufacturing was made available for commercial and industrial applications. Fast forward to the 2010s, and engineers today are free to create innovative designs with nothing to limit their creativity. The manufacturers of industrial components need no longer depend on third parties to develop their machinery, thus taking the value of the 3D printing industry to more than $1 billion in 2014. Before the pandemic broke out, the industry was valued at $7 billion in 2018, according to the Wohler’s Report.

The COVID-19 effect on ALM 

Additive manufacturing set new records in critical times by aiding the healthcare industry to offer medical kits, protective equipment, and related products to the citizens in bulk. The breakdown of the supply chain, need for social distancing, remote manufacturing, low investment, and of course, fulfilling the demands for essential products made 3D printing a feasible and viable option for manufacturers.

ALM companies have also reached out to offer their services at lower costs to keep the demand high. It won’t be wrong to say that the ALM technology will be one of the sectors keeping the nation’s economy afloat in the coming days. Market researchers are estimating a CAGR growth of 18% in the post-COVID era, taking the value of the industry to $30.2 billion by 2025.

So, what’s in the future of additive layer manufacturing?

  • Less volume more components – Soon, parts of design components won’t be acquired from the warehouse anymore, thus reducing the weight of the end product. Spare parts inventories will experience an increase in storage space, and the costs will inevitably decrease.
  • Supply chain reorganization – Digitization will be at its peak, as actual physical components can be created with 3D printing. This will help reorganize the supply chain, reduce labor costs, and the production time of course.
  • Replacing parts will be easier than never before – As no real-time tooling or fixing will be necessary, manufacturers will be able to replace damaged parts within the shortest possible time. Costs will come down too, as 3D printing gets into the domestic sphere.
  • Metal binder jetting – With metal binder jetting, additive manufacturing will reach high-volume production levels, especially in the auto industry. In fact, Volkswagen has partnered with HP to use the latter’s metal jet technology for a rapid increase in the rate and quality of production.

How Additive Accelerator can help take this revolution forward

With a mission to become one of the leading suppliers of ALM applications and solutions globally, the experts at Additive Accelerator can identify high-end 3D printing applications for their scalability, profitability, and transferability to provide their clients, the manufacturers from different industrial sectors, with optimized additive manufacturing solutions to increase their revenue.

Besides developing bespoke 3D printing solutions for the clients, they can help create a definite strategy to adopt the new technology, understand its risks and challenges and create amazing products at minimum costs to innovate the supply chain.

If you’re willing to break the chains of convention and take the designing, engineering, and manufacturing processes a notch up, get in touch with the professionals at Additive Accelerator for the latest solutions in 3D printing.