matched, customized products such as metal orthopedic implants and
surgical cutting and drilling guides.
According to 3D Systems Corp., R&D into 3-D printing has been
sparked worldwide, with amazing innovations.
Meanwhile, the drive for multi-material printing, full-color printing
and fabrication-grade printing continues. Some of the biggest improvements made to 3-D printers in the past three years are in the materials.
In the case of Stratasys, getting involved in nylons and polycarbonates is
important as these are commonly used in manufacturing processes.
The range of materials being printed in 3-D has been expanding rapidly. 3D Systems can print more than 100 different materials, from food
ingredients to waxes, ceramics, plastics and even metals. The possibilities
of adapting yet more materials with which to 3-D print is causing a lot of
excitement in the world combined with easy solutions for consumers.
Stratasys, in January 2014, released the Objet500 Connex3 color
multi-material printer, a 3-D printer able to combine colors with
multi-material 3-D printing. Marketed for product design, engineering
and manufacturing, the 3-D printer features a unique triple-jetting
technology that combines droplets of three base materials to produce
parts with unlimited combinations of rigid, flexible and transparent
color materials, as well as color digital materials, in a single print run.
The ability to achieve the characteristics of an assembled part without
assembly or painting is a time-saver, helping product manufacturers
validate designs and make good decisions earlier before committing to
manufacturing, and bringing products to market faster.
There is also a growing trend for improved industrial 3-D printers that
are streamlined enough to use in a standard office space, with a growing
range of affordable print solutions for professional, dental and jewelry
users. Better ease-of-use to design on 3-D printers and the capability of
having a wide variety of files available allow anybody, even if they don’t
have a four-year degree in engineering and design, to use these machines.
Growth areas for 3-D printing
The major growth area for 3-D printing technologies is coming from the
manufacturing sector. While analysts may indicate that real growth will
come from the personal printing space, the growth in the manufacturing
space will come from companies as they continue to look at this technology to customize or semi-customize many of the products they are
designing that may need rapid changes.
“If you look at some very high-end European automobiles, you will
see as many as 25 to 30 parts that have been 3-D printed,” says Jon Cobb,
VP of marketing, Stratasys. “You wouldn’t know because the parts are
wrapped in exotic leather or carbon fiber materials; but, in fact, they are
utilizing 3-D printing for parts today.” And this trend will be seen more
as time goes on.
Another area that is already seeing a lot of development is in custom
medical devices. For example, 3-D technologies are used in custom
prosthetics—such as the Ekso robotic suit that is 3-D printed to match a
patient’s exact shape—as well as internal devices and implants. A number
of organizations have already received FDA 510(k) approvals for additively manufactured implants, and other submissions are in the works.
According to 3D Systems, an R&D team in Cardiff, Wales, CARTIS,
is already successfully using their technologies for custom-printed
implants and surgical guides to enhance facial reconstruction surgeries.
For EOS, the biggest growth area is aerospace. DMLS is already used
for production at several major companies, and the company expects to
see adoption of high-temperature PEEK thermoplastic parts for commercial aircraft.
The overall beauty of 3-D printing technology is that it can be adopted in any industry where there’s a match between the customers’ needs
and the production capabilities of a company’s systems and materials.
The possibilities are endless and are only limited by the imagination and
ambition of the people behind the technology.
Stratasys’ Objet500 Connex3 color multi-material 3-D printer.