Friday, 11 February 2011

The Economist frontpage Feb 2010: Print Me a Stradivarius

3D Printing hits the home page of The Economist The violin illustrated was made using an EOS laser-sintering 3D printer (and apparently it plays beautifully). The Economist article claims that 3D printing from digital designs will transform manufacturing and allow more people to start making things. Read both articles here:

* Examples of 3D printed objects include aircraft landing gear, medical implants, jewellery, football boots, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries, complex mechanical devices and customized mobile phones
* More than 20% of 3D printed output is now production product, not prototype
* The technical term for this field is 'additive manufacturing'
* Within Technologies have 3D printed a flexible 'chain mail' metal glove, available in steel or titanium
* A new industrial revolution is on the way
* With traditional manufacturing techniques, 90% of the material is waste, cut away swarf. With 3D pritning, unused material can be re-used to print another part. Typically, a 3D printed part requires about 10% of the material required otherwise.
* 3D printing uses less energy to create parts
* 3D printing is not always slower per part
* Machining a part traditionally means having material where you might not need it for the final product. 3D printing puts material only where needed.
* 3D printed parts can be lighter, e.g. in aerospace applications
* Although current 3D printers have small build chambers, gantry like devices will be able to print very large parts in the future
* 3D printing can create internal structure in a material. e.g. Titanium with inner bone like lattice
* A company called Digital Forming is working with mobile operators to apply consumers to order custom printed designs
* Shapeways is now printing more than 10,000 each month
* EOS claims that a single machine would allow a Dentist to print 450 unique dental crowns in a single day
* Stratasys are printing parts for their own range of 3D printers
* Factories of the future will have 3D printers working along side existing machines, e.g. milling, presses, foundries and plastic injection moulding
* Rapid Quality Manufacturing says that small to medium sized metal components can be 3D printed in hours or days, against days or weeks for traditional process. (And the printers can run 24/7 unattended)
* A team at Loughborough University has invented a high-speed sintering system and believes that it can make parts for Burton Snowboards for 16 cents each, competitive with injection moulding
* 3D printed lampshades has become an industry with sales volumes in the 1000s
* Prediction that within 5 years, it will be competitive to have 3D printed runs of 10,000s to 100,000s
* Expectation of the 'Digital Production Plant'  - less capital tied up in tooling costs, work in progress and raw materials
* Chinese companies are adopting the technology
* DHL organized a conference which posited threats to the logistics industry - i.e. print where you need things
* 3D printing lowers the cost of entry to manufacturing  (analogy with early PC industry)
* Good ideas will now be able to copied ever faster, so expect some battles on intellectual property
* Competitive advantages may be shorter-lived than ever before
* "The beneficiary will be customers - revolution may not be too strong a word"