3D printing is a dynamic industry, with new technologies and techniques emerging all the time. Here’s what Menno Ellis, senior vice president, Strategy & Vertical Markets, 3D Systems says about coming developments.
For many years, the additive manufacturing (AM) industry has focused on prototyping. What began as quick, relatively simple prototypes evolved into aesthetically pleasing (i.e., color, improved surface finish and texture) and functional items such as springs, hinges, and moving parts. With the advent of more durable plastics and metals as well as advances in printer technologies to deliver more accurate parts in less time at lower cost, the AM spotlight has shifted to making end-use parts. Both the AM industry – as well as the Media – are enamored with this next wave where additive manufacturing selectively displaces subtractive and formative manufacturing approaches in a variety of industries; like dominoes getting knocked over one at a time. What’s gotten lost in the excitement – which by the way is a relatively slow movement in light of the traditional manufacturing efficiencies that have been steadily honed since the dawn of the industrial revolution – are the millions upon millions of “invisible” parts that are 3D printed daily as sacrificial tools and thus never see the light of day. Examples of this include:
• The hundreds of thousands of dental models printed daily to produce invisible dental aligners or help dentists build crowns, implants, and other devices for their patients
• Wax rings, pendants and other jewelry items that are printed before being cast into precious metals
• Resin or wax printed patterns used for casting engine components and other metal parts across a wide range of industries
• 3D printed clips, jigs, and fixtures used in factories all over the world to enable automated production of a variety of products.
These are all single-use items, and the production volumes are staggering. However, since nobody thinks about them when holding an end product in their hands – they are the forgotten killer application of this industry.