duction volume was low, the company 3-D printed the parts for a foreign
“After the trial, the company made design tweaks and completed functional tests to move into a limited market release,” says Camuel. “They continued
working with us to produce some end-use plastic components with complex
geometries that were impossible to injection mold, in addition to avoiding
capital investments in tooling.”
A change in materials
Applications drive material development activity in the 3-D printing world.
When an OEM comes to a 3-D printer manufacturer, such as EOS or Stratasys, with a specific application requiring a material that isn’t commercially
available yet, the manufacturer must explore developing the material either
directly for them or in a collaborative arrangement.
EOS is seeing a current interest in tungsten. The aerospace industry is
also looking closely at EOS NickelAlloy HX, analogous to Hastelloy X in
traditional processes. The company is also developing tooling metals beyond
their present maraging steel, such as a 420 stainless steel ideal for molds in
manufacturing plastic products.
In addition to technological advances, the quality and quantity of materials has greatly improved. Processes like Stratasys’ PolyJet use materials that
simulate multiple plastic mechanical properties in a single build to provide
excellent detail, according to Camuel. FDM and selective laser sintering
(SLS) build with strong thermoplastics that can endure extreme temperature
and chemical exposure, with some certified for highly regulated industries
like aerospace and health care.
Another major advance, according to Camuel, is the production of metal
parts. Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) builds parts layer-by-layer out of
a powder bed of metal alloys. DMLS is ideal for small, complex metal parts
and opens the door to new industries and applications.
The future is bright
Entrepreneurs who want inexpensive printers have stimulated the development of low-end technologies that encourage others to enter the field of 3-D
printing/additive manufacturing. As new users discover the design potential
of additive manufacturing, many of them want to transition their designs to
create production-quality parts, according to EOS’ Snow, and that’s when they
turn to companies with expertise in industrial 3-D printing. The broader market for low-cost equipment becomes a feeder system for high-end systems as
users become more sophisticated and demand high-quality production.
Also, according to Snow, people are starting to educate themselves about
3-D printing, and some customers now offer training courses in DMLS. It’s
EOS’ hope that, in the long term, more technical colleges and universities
that teach best practices for subtractive manufacturing, such as cutting or
grinding, will build curriculums that incorporate detailed courses on design
and production with additive manufacturing.
The future possibilities are seemingly endless for 3-D printing.
“With further evolution of additive technologies and more materials for
functional use, I believe we will see 3-D printing lead to a transformation in
the manufacturing industry,” says Camuel.
Adoption of additive processes also plays an important role in the future.
As more organizations implement additive manufacturing into all stages of
their product development process, engineers and companies will be able
to think differently, spurring innovation and allowing us to re-imagine how
things are made.
—Lindsay Hock, Editor
Image of Stratasys 3-D printers in a manufacturing facility.