With a plethora of companies using professional 3D printers in their production processes, we want to identify industries that we believe can benefit most from additive manufacturing. By looking at these industries, it’s easy to understand how and why professional 3D printers are changing manufacturing as a whole.
The aerospace industry has some of the highest standards in part performance. Aerospace parts must withstand extreme temperatures and chemicals while being subjected to repeated loading, all while remaining as light as possible. Individual part failures often result in full system failures on aircraft carrying lives and cargo — so failure is simply not an option. Since part precision is critical for aircraft, aerospace engineers have taken to 3D printing inspection tooling to reduce costs for low-volume parts.
In the last few years, additive manufacturing has advanced rapidly, and advancements in the 3D printing industry have developed better solutions for aircraft manufacturers. Professional 3D printers can now print in high-performance thermoplastics reinforced with continuous fiber reinforcement (CFR) for additional strength, such as ULTEM™ 9085 Filament. Furthermore, professional 3D printers are now able to print larger parts at faster speeds, widening the scope of possible aerospace applications for the benefits of AM.
The automotive industry has been charging ahead with additive manufacturing, with high-profile companies such as Audi using 3D printers. It’s not just the Audis of the world that are using 3D printers — everything from race car teams to sub manufacturers (OEMs) for each car manufacturer are utilizing 3D printers. Initially, the value of the 3D printing industry reaching automotive manufacturers focused on building the tooling and fixtures that aide the manufacturing process. The most common parts printed by automotive manufacturers are fixtures, cradles, and prototypes, which need to be stiff and strong, as well as durable.
However, professional 3D printers are now used to print high-strength, fiber-reinforced end use parts as well. Garry Rogers Motorsport, for example, uses a professional 3D printer to print numerous end-use parts such as steering wheels.
It’s also not unheard of for some to use professional 3D printers to fabricate replacement parts for centuries-old cars. This ensures there are enough pieces to service legacy cars as well as standard maintenance, repairment, and operations.
From jigs and fixtures all the way to end-of-arm tooling, industrial 3D printers are completely turning the decades-old manufacturing industry on its head. Companies are able to create custom, low-volume tooling and fixtures at a fraction of the traditional price, giving designers and engineers more time to spend on revenue-generating parts. Due to 3D printing industry advances, mall manufacturers get the same advantages with a professional 3D printer as giant, global manufacturers, to improve and expedite processing while mitigating downtime. Companies are also able to have more creative freedom while saving on labor costs and time. Metal fabrication company Lean Machine, for instance, has approached 3D printing with a design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) approach, saving them upwards of $4000 per tool.
From customizability to reduced weight, these factors make successful robotics parts match well with 3D printing capabilities. Parts like grippers and sensor mounts are expensive to fabricate and need to be custom designed for different uses. Robotics engineers utilize 3D printers for end-of-arm tooling and end-use parts, from gripper fingers to entire robot components to reduce the weight of the overall product to ensure the tools can move faster and carry heavier items. Instead of paying large amounts of money for a non-customized design, 3D printing industry technologies allow robotics companies to design and fabricate light, complex parts such as end-of-arm tooling at a fraction of the cost. Haddington Dynamics, for example, is utilizing its four printers to create 3D printed robot arms for NASA and GoogleX for 58% less than traditional manufacturing.
As the 3D printing industry grows, educational institutes are rushing to make sure they stay on the cutting edge of the new technology for research and education purposes. From professors printing parts for educational tools to convey the lesson plan to PhD students utilizing the printers for research, 3D printers serve a variety of purposes in colleges. Colleges like Oklahoma State University and Purdue University in Indiana have taken a great interest in teaching their students about emerging additive manufacturing materials and technology.
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) gives its students a competitive advantage after adding Markforged printers to its AMPrint Center. The center is focused on equipping students with the best and safest industrial 3D printers for education.
*The ULTEM™ and 9085 trademarks are used under license from SABIC, its affiliates or subsidiaries.
Demonstration from Markforged Application Engineer Ross Adams on 3D printing applications in the Aerospace industry.