Until now, manufacturers have been dipping their toes and getting familiar with the technology, using it to create prototypes rather than final products. But that is changing. It's only a matter of time before 3D printing makes the leap from prototyping to manufacturing on the factory floor. And this leap will happen a lot sooner than most people think.
The shift has been fuelled by innovation across the 3D printing landscape. First and foremost, what stands out is the rise of metals. In the past seven years, we've seen the arrival of 3D printed metals for essential products like fuel nozzles on jet engines. In fact, hundreds of airline parts can now be manufactured on an industrial 3D printer in the same time it takes to assemble the components by traditional methods, which is impressive.
Another significant leap forward for 3D printing has been the rise of biomedical and healthcare applications. Today, for instance, pretty much every hearing aid in the world has 3D printed components. And then, there are 3D-printed teeth aligners, which are having a profound impact on the dentistry market. These customised orthodontics, which are more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing than conventional braces, are now 3D printed by the millions. The result has been a considerable cost reduction in teeth straightening.
The combination of generative design software and step-change improvements in 3D printing technology have helped create next generation tools for designers that never existed before.
And this has unlocked exciting new capabilities. For instance, we recently saw a 16-rotor super-drone, basically a flying car with vertical takeoff and landing, fully outfitted with 3D-printed parts. Without 3D printing, an innovation like this would not be possible.
We've also seen the dramatic evolution of polymers. In the past, polymers were only used for design prototypes. But, in the last few years, polymers have been increasingly used in factory settings.
For example, Essentium recently launched a line of antistatic filaments that can be made in various colours to address aerospace manufacturers' demanding requirements. With these materials, 3D printing now enables dust caps, panel covers, corner protectors, bump caps, and packing inserts used during the manufacture of space vehicles.
However, currently, there is a common myth that 3D printing can create any part(s) designed for traditional manufacturing processes. However, like all other manufacturing processes, the key to successfully adopting and deploying the technology is to design specifically for the 3D printing process. Engineering designers will need to adopt new design principles to optimise a part's functionality while reducing material, time, and cost.
There are already many design tips and techniques for additive manufacturing available on the web, such as tips for FFF, SLS, and SLA. However, these design tips are not always applicable to filament printing for high speed extrusion, a distinct process.
The rule of thumb is to make the fillet radius greater than or equal to 5mm and using high-resolution STL files during the design process. This allows the toolhead to move fast while maintaining geometric accuracy.
Manufacturers can shave off considerable time by reducing travel movements. For example, a representative fixture printed a whopping 24% faster after this optimisation.
For instance, on the Essentium HSE 3D Printing Platform, we use 0.4mm nozzles and 0.8mm nozzles, in general, which means our toolpath width is going to be the same, 0.4 or 0.8mm. Avoiding uneven extrusion ensures the best quality and the best strength for part walls. The payback in terms of time savings is also significant, with a 17% reduction in print speed on a recent chip tray we printed using this technique.
By embracing these three techniques, engineering designers will ensure manufacturers can, without a doubt, improve parts speed and performance. And, more importantly, designing specifically for high speed extrusion means that manufacturers will spend less time honing 3D-production processes and be able to rapidly realise the true value of industrial-scale 3D printing.