3D Printing: The Smart Way to the Product

Simply print out dental bridges, aircraft parts and sports shoes? This has long been anything but science fiction. 3D printing offers fantastic possibilities. It is one of the most exciting facets of digitization – and a mega-trend that could change the face of entire industries.

3D printing offers fantastic possibilities in both small and large dimensions. Photo: Shutterstock - Bas Nastassia

3D printing offers fantastic possibilities in both small and large dimensions. Photo: Shutterstock – Bas Nastassia

A popular cliche about the Swabians says that they not only like to “labor” for a living, but are also passionate home builders. Perhaps they’ll no longer build their homes in the future, but print them. A house from the printer? Yes, it’s feasible and the best example stands in Dubai. A building with over 640 square meters on two floors, printed in full by 3D printers in 17 days. In Germany, researchers from the Technical Universities of Munich and Braunschweig have been working on 3D printers for buildings since the beginning of the year. It is said that printable concretes already meet the current concrete standard.

The 3D printer is a technological revolution

Indeed, 3D printing is an exciting facet of digitization. The basis for every print work is its three-dimensional data. First, special software breaks the object down into wafer-thin layers. Then the 3D printer rebuilds it by printing layer by layer on top of each other and connecting them together. Which printing technology is used depends on the printing material. For example, there are printers for plastic, synthetic resin, and metal powder that harden the material by cooling or chemical processes. Other systems work with liquid materials and UV light. In Germany, 3D printing is still on hold, as consulting firm Ernst & Young has found out. In contrast to China, South Korea, and Canada, companies in this country do not yet consistently rely on final products from the printer. The potential applications are tremendous.

Scientists research 3D printing for space

The industrial 3D printers "ExAM 255" of AIM3D are able to process pellets that are conventionally used for injection molding. Photo: AIM3D

The industrial 3D printers “ExAM 255” of AIM3D are able to process pellets that are conventionally used for injection molding. Photo: AIM3D

In future, the manufacturing industry will perhaps no longer send finished and packaged products to its customers, but rather printing data. This could be printed out at home or at a printing center. But new technologies are pushing the boundaries even further. The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology (IWU) has developed a process for manufacturing high-volume plastic components that is eight times faster than conventional 3D printing. In Switzerland, the Institute for Technology Lausanne (EPFL) presented a new 3D printing technique that creates a model by rotation in a resin bath. In this process, individual particles in synthetic resin are exposed to a laser, turning them solid. Small 3D objects can thus be printed in just 30 seconds. An almost universal application is offered by the 3D printer of start-up AIM3D, which can process almost all ceramic, metal, and plastic materials. The Technical University of Clausthal, in turn, is already researching the use of powder-based 3D printing in zero gravity. This way, astronauts will in future be able to manufacture components, spare parts, and tools in the space station itself.

In medical technology, DNA stem cells are the print material of the future

Meanwhile, there are other best practice examples of 3D printing on Earth: In medical technology, perfectly fitting hearing aids, soles for sports shoes, and dental prostheses and crowns from the 3D printer have long been state-of-the-art. In a few years, the production of organs such as heart and liver could appear on the map if the processing of DNA stem cells in 3D printing is successful. Not quite as sophisticated, but nevertheless useful and original, are, for example, individual wet razors or chocolates that are 3D printed at the confectioner’s.

With the opening of the new state-of-the-art 3D printing facility at Materials Solutions Ltd., Siemens is continuing to drive the industrialization of additive manufacturing. Photo: Siemens. The firm Apis Cor produced 3D printed wall structures of a two-story administrative building for the Dubai Municipality. Photo: Apis Cor Thanks to the 3D printer, the structure of the building was built directly on-site without any extra assembly works. Photo: Apis Cor With a height of 9.5 meters and an area of 640 square meters, it is the largest 3D printed building to date. Photo: Apis Cor Mercedes-Benz Trucks produces spare parts with the latest 3D SLS printing processes. Photo: Daimler Mercedes-Benz Trucks produces complex metallic spare and special parts using a new 3D printing process. Photo: Daimler The interior of the 3D printer shows the first printed thermostat covers, which are still connected to the work platform. Photo: Daimler The industrial 3D printers "ExAM 255" of AIM3D are able to process pellets that are conventionally used for injection molding. Photo: AIM3D The ExAM 255 can print prototypes made of metals, such as steel, but also plastics – without the need of expensive retrofitting. Photo: AIM3D Living Seawalls provide cost-effective options for retrofitting existing structures on private and public seawalls. Photo: sdyney institute of marine science Concrete tiles have been specially designed using 3D technology to mimic natural habitat features of Sydney rocky shores. Photo: sdyney institute of marine science The concrete tiles are retrofitted to existing seawalls. Photo: sdyney institute of marine science

Individual production and shorter production time

The commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler Trucks & Buses now produces spare parts for trucks with the 3D printer. The catalog lists around 30 products such as covers, spacers, air-, and cable ducts. In Dortmund, Siemens Mobility’s maintenance department prints out spare parts for rail vehicles, reducing production time by up to 95 percent. The car manufacturer Honda relies on lightweight construction through 3D printing. The Japanese have developed a crankshaft that saves 50 percent in weight compared to conventional models.

Concrete tiles have been specially designed using 3D technology to mimic natural habitat features of Sydney rocky shores. Photo: sdyney institute of marine science

Concrete tiles have been specially designed using 3D technology to mimic natural habitat features of Sydney rocky shores. Photo: sdyney institute of marine science

Last but not least, the environment can also benefit from the technology. The Institute of Marine Sciences in Sydney has developed the “Living Seawall” with the help of concrete 3D printing – an artificial habitat that imitates natural structures and thus enables the settlement of marine organisms.

Related articles
 
Magazine Topics
 
Newsletter