The New Hardware World of Additive: Higher Volumes, More Talent


Additive manufacturing in large-scale manufacturing industries is experiencing phenomenal growth. Its value is evident in the industry’s annual growth rate of 19.5% in 2021, an increase from 7.5% growth in 2020according to the Wohler 2022 report.

According to a recent article by the World Economic Forum, “A Breakthrough in Additive Manufacturing: A Practical Guide to Evolve and Overcome Key Challenges“, industry advancements in new AM materials will play an important role in furthering this growth.

In fact, the WEF notes that the lack of a wide range of durable, application-specific materials has historically been a growth inhibitor for the industry. This is changing rapidly as new 3D printing technologies expand the potential universe of materials and the world’s largest chemical companies begin to shift their considerable R&D resources to additive manufacturing applications.

Historically, most 3D printing processes, especially for manufacturing, were either extrusion or laser based. With increased digitization, such as with powder-based fusion and programmable polymerization, we can now measure and manage processes to a much greater degree. For example, with laser-based systems, we can digitally manage the increase and decrease in intensity of infrared lamps and the length of time the powder is exposed to heat, while continuously measuring how this powder reacts with the system’s infrared camera. . The end result is that systems are programmed and calibrated faster for new material requirements, so more materials get to market faster.

There has simply been a shortage of materials specialists specializing in 3D printing materials. Most materials printed today are existing materials that have been adapted to 3D printing processes for many years. Now, however, a move towards higher-volume manufacturing applications combined with new digital 3D printing processes has attracted interest from companies, such as BASF and Henkel. Suddenly the industry goes from a few chemists to thousands. It’s no wonder we’re seeing an acceleration in hardware innovation.

The result is a proliferation of innovative new materials that reduce cost and improve part performance for industries as varied as automotive, aerospace and medical. Here are some of the most exciting developments:

Manufacture of tools and parts

Manufacturing aids such as tooling are already experiencing a rapid shift towards 3D printing, which increases adaptability and availability on the assembly line and improves ergonomics for workers who previously used tools, jigs and heavier metal fixtures. With composite materials such as Nylon 12 (PA12) carbon fiber, additive manufacturing makes it possible to 3D print the tools needed for production on demand and on site when needed. supersonic boom, for example, used 3D printers to create a drilling tool with carbon fibers and rigid heat-resistant resins that provide enough strength and precision to support the drilling process of its supersonic test aircraft, the XB-1. For less demanding jig and fixture applications, more traditional Nylon 12 formulations are often used. In fact, PA12 is the most common material per ton in 3D printing today.

Another material gaining momentum is PA11, which is a durable nylon material derived from castor oil. In many ways, its mechanical properties are superior to PA12, making it ideal for 3D printing spare parts for manufacturing equipment and other high-impact applications in other industries like dental appliances or insoles, or certain electronic applications.

Materials for large-scale automotive manufacturing

For years, the role of additives in the automotive industry was mainly used for prototyping parts, because the materials were not durable or long-lasting. However, thanks to advances in durable thermoplastic materials, 3D printing can now speed up manufacturing processes and eliminate supply chain issues while reducing the costs of parts such as side mirror housings and mounting brackets.

For example, polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer, is a popular powder used in the automotive industry due to its flexibility to form different parts. With its heat resistance and durability, polypropylene has been used in gas cans, car bumpers, and other vehicle parts. Additionally, because it is a low-density material, automakers can manufacture parts with the same or better physical properties with less material and weight. Polypropylene has been a difficult material for 3D printers, but new advances in powder bed fusion technologies are changing that. AMPower 2022 Additive Manufacturing Market Report predicts that the use of polypropylene in industrial AM will grow from 171 tons in 2021 to 719 tons in 2026.

Soaring in aerospace

With the increasing material capabilities of 3D printing, the aerospace industry is benefiting greatly given the low-volume but high-value nature of aerospace manufacturing. For example, ULTEM 9085, a polyether material, allows manufacturers to develop quality parts for aircraft interiors, such as beverage carts, lavatories, side panels and bulkheads. It meets critical FST requirements (flame, smoke, toxicity), with durable physical properties. In fact, most commercial aircraft now include 3D printed parts with the material.

A newer filament for FDM 3D printing is Antero 840CN03, a high performance semi-crystalline thermoplastic. It is highly resistant to heat and fatigue and retains its stiffness over a wide temperature range. These materials work well for housings, casings, covers, and cooling and heating ducts. Its chemical resistance allows it to be used in places where ULTEM cannot, and it can also provide electrostatic discharge (ESD) properties where static electricity can be a problem. Major aerospace and space companies are now beginning to certify its use. Related industries like rail transportation are also adopting these materials.

Although not yet as widely adopted, innovations in photopolymer resins have also accelerated for aerospace, which can be invaluable when larger volumes or greater print accuracy are required. For example, LOCTITE 3955 is a fast transfer resin (FST) suitable for aerospace and railroad applications, such as electrical connectors. Many of these resins can be quickly formulated for very specific custom industrial applications.

Future development

We see the need and value of additive manufacturing across multiple industries. While the past two years have shown the fragility of traditional supply chains, 75% supply chain leaders have reported significant disruption due to the pandemic, positioning AM to offer advantages and improvements over traditional methods.

With the growing collaboration between materials companies such as Covestro, BASF and Henkel, and 3D printing companies such as Stratasys, the additive manufacturing industry is poised to meet the demands of large-scale manufacturing by offering more functional designs and reduced costs. In the future, we may even be able to mix and print custom materials in a single part depending on part geometry. Imagine, for example, adding more carbon fiber to sections of a part that need more strength, while other sections get more flexibility, all managed at the digital voxel level. Thus, new materials combine with new 3D printing techniques to create new parts and applications to develop additive manufacturing.

Pat Carey is Senior Vice President of Strategic Growth at Stratasys.


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