Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing are technologies that with the help of Computer Aided Design (CAD) models create three-dimensional parts by adding material layer by layer. In simple words, a 3D image is created by using additive processes. Since 2010, professional 3D printing technologies have become increasingly popular among various industries like engineering, manufacturing, dentistry, healthcare, etc.

Benefits of additive manufacturing

  1. It is very helpful in manufacturing, prototyping and product development.
  2. It is a very practical option in small and mid-scale manufacturing due to high-throughput and high-quality printing of final parts.
  3. Hybrid production is beneficial in creating molds, tools, patterns, fixtures, and jigs.

Evolution of additive manufacturing technology

When the 3D printers were launched, for about three decades they were largely used only in big enterprises and service bureaus due to their high cost and complexity. However, around 2010 many companies entered the market and the use of 3D printers increased excessively due to better hardware and technology. The first technology to be launched for the desktop was fused deposition modeling (FDM). Next came stereolithography, which was cheaper, compact and quite user-friendly.

The third technology of 3D printing techniques for the desktop was based on selective laser sintering (SLS). It created parts from thermoplastics such as nylon that were as strong as their injection-molded counterparts.  The Benchtop SLS printers are now available at a much lower price than earlier which significantly helps in reducing the cost of production.

Advances in the materials of additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing systems are very versatile as they work with a wide range of materials. For instance, in a resin-based polymer 3D printing process, a single, simple 3D printer can produce biocompatible splints and surgical guides in a small dental office, and jigs, fixtures, and temperature resistant molds for an automotive factory.

Many high-temperature resins are used in low-pressure plastic injection molding as well as casting soft metals like pewter. SLA, SLS, and FDM are great and affordable alternatives for costly subtractive manufacturing processes. Moreover, new materials like ceramic SLA are expected to provide heat resistance and inert chemical interaction.

Improving economics for marketing

3D printing is currently useful for highest-value, lowest-volume, most-customized work. However, considering the advancement of technology and enhanced materials, additive manufacturing has a lot of potential for improvement in the future which will be useful for mass production.

At the moment, hybrid manufacturing is extensively being used where 3D printing is used along with conventional methods of manufacturing. Jewelry making, custom earbud production and other industries like dentistry, medical devices use hybrid manufacturing.

Metal 3d printing

In metal 3D orienting parts made from materials like steel, titanium, nickel alloys, and aluminum are used. The most common processes are selective laser melting (SLM) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). A source of heat is used to create objects from thin layers of powdered material by selectively melting. However, metal 3D printers are not the cheapest products in the market. Quite recently, Desktop Metal and Markforged have created simple systems that work similarly to FDM, but use composite materials made from metal powder bound in a plastic matrix. These advancements shall lead to much wider adoption of additive manufacturing in a range of low- and medium-volume industries.

Automation and streamlined workflows

A 3D printer despite all its awesomeness is not a magical product that will print fully finished products. The technicians will have to do some amount of post-processing. It could be light brushing, extensive solvent-washing, heat treatment, abrasive polishing, or coating processes. Therefore, in order to reduce some costs, the additive manufacturing systems will have to decrease labor needs. Here are a few possible solutions.

  1. FDM printers with dual nozzles- have soluble supports that can be easily washed away in solvents
  2. SLA systems- simplify post-processing with automated cleaning and post-curing stations

Various companies have now begun to use cells of automated, compact, modular printers for plastics. Robotic arms and gantry systems help in removing parts that significantly reduce operator tasks. Moreover, automation cells offer high throughput at low cost by turning many desktop machines into production run machines.

Trends in 3d printing technology

Faster work

In every large project, time is extremely precious. Here is where Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) developed by Carbon is helpful. It is a 3D printing technology that is extremely fast and also prints without any interruptions of visible layers. It is based on a photochemical process involving a liquid interface of uncured resin and a passing light source.

Bigger work

Hybrid printing is very useful in industries that require the production of large and complex components. It makes the whole process faster as well as affordable. Currently, the biggest 3D printer is used for attaching wing components to Boeing. Other sectors where bigger components are created include wind energy, aerospace or automotive sector.

Fully Functional Objects

3D printing is so much more than simply creating objects. It may be used to create fully-functional objects like complex electronics. Some printers like the Voxel8 system can print plastic with conductive traces on it.

Living Printed Structures

Well, imagine being able to bring printed structure to life. This sounds quite impossible but with the advancement in technology in 3D printing, some regenerative medicine scientists have been able to print ear, bone, and muscle structures, which matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels when implanted. However, there is still a lot of research and work that needs to be done in this field.

Dwellings Out of Plastic

Another extremely fascinating creation is building freeform 3D-printed houses. Some architects have made an attempt to create an 800-square-foot single-family house by using 3D printing technology. In addition to the normal bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom, the house will also have eco-friendly facilities like instant and passive heating and cooling strategies. How amazing!

Therefore, additive manufacturing is a technology that is extremely beneficial for various industries. It is a blessing in order to make complex tasks simpler and easier. And the best part is that with each passing day, it is only getting better.