3D Printing: Addition or Revolution of Manufacturing?
3D printers have the potential to revolutionize the industry as we know it. Whether they make it or not depends not least on how efficient and precise we can make them.
3D printing includes all manufacturing procedures in which three-dimensional components are produced layer by layer using physical or chemical processes. 3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, developed in recent years from a promising vision of the future to an alternative to classic component manufacture that has to be taken seriously.
Worldwide sales in the 3D printer market grew from 0.7 billion euros in 2013 to 5.4 billion euros last year. During the same period, sales of services and materials for 3D printers grew from 1.8 to 10.8 billion euros. In 2020, the total worldwide sales volume will be around 20 billion euros.
The most common techniques used in 3D printing are laser and electron beam melting and laser sintering for metals, polymers and ceramics, stereolithography and digital light processing for liquid synthetic resins, as well as multi-jet modelling and melt layering for plastics and synthetic resins.
Most patent applications and the largest manufacturers of 3D printers come from the USA. Although Germany is not the market leader in additive manufacturing, the proportion of companies that already have in-house experience with 3D printing is the highest in the world at 37%. Germany is thus above the European average (22%) and also well ahead of the USA (16%).
The main potential for improving quality and further complementing conventional manufacturing processes lies in the quality of the materials used and the accuracy of the printing process. Intensive research is being carried out in both areas by both the public and private sectors. As development progresses, both the quality and quantity of the finished components can be significantly improved.
Another very important factor for the continuing development of additive manufacturing is the cost of components manufactured using the 3D printing process. While in 2013 the average cost per cubic centimetre produced was still around 3 euros, it will probably fall to around 1 euro per cubic centimetre by 2023.
From prototype to series production
3D printing is already used by 38% of companies in the plastics processing industry. In the automotive and aviation industries, as well as in mechanical and plant engineering, the share is around 30%. Although in a survey of 900 companies from 12 countries, only around 6% of those surveyed stated that additive manufacturing was also used to manufacture end products, 3D printing is slowly liberating itself from the field of individual and prototype production.
In many companies, it has become a fixed and constantly growing part of series production. It remains to be seen whether it can be more than just an alternative in the future. What is certain, however, is that 3D printing will gain ground in more and more areas in the coming years and that production processes will continue to change. The desire for ever shorter production and development cycles as well as the demand for product individualisation opens up far-reaching possibilities for 3D printing.
3D printing in spare parts production
The 3D printing of spare parts is an example for the introduction of the new technology. Deutsche Bahn uses the 3D printing process for the production of spare parts and is a pioneer in this field across all industries.
Stefanie Brickwede, project manager of the group project “3D Printing”, mentions the simplified procurement of spare parts over a long period of time as the primary reason for using additive manufacturing. “We were (…) faced with the question of how to get spare parts that are no longer produced today. (…) Our trains have been on the rails for a good 30 years, i.e. much longer than there is the possibility of delivering spare parts”. The in-house production of required spare parts using the 3D printing process not only ensures permanent availability, but also the rapid procurement of required components. This shortens machine downtime, lowers maintenance costs and also helps the environment, as the spare parts produced on site no longer have to be transported.
Another reason for the increased use of 3D printing is the possibility of repairing individual parts instead of having to replace them completely. Stefanie Brickwede mentions a specific case here: “My favourite example is the lock on the driver’s door. Often only the guide sleeve breaks, and the entire lock would have to be replaced. Using 3D printing, we rebuild this part and repair the lock”.
At the end of 2017, around 3 percent of all Deutsche Bahn spare parts were produced using the 3D printing process. This corresponded to a total of 2,000 components. We are currently aiming at the production of 15,000 components. *1
3D printing for foodstuffs
3D printing in the food industry combines the areas of “high technology” and “great pleasure” in the most exciting way. Because the 3D printer serves one of the oldest rules of sophisticated cuisine: “You eat with your eyes first”. And thanks to modern 3D printers, the eyes get a lot to see.
Alongside the “classic” applications for manufacturing machine parts and baking moulds, for a number of years foods themselves have been printed. As long as 10 years ago, NASA began researching the use of 3D printers to produce food for astronauts. Here on the earth, the development of 3D printers for foodstuffs is still frowned upon as a gimmick. However, the advantages of printed food cannot simply be dismissed. The increasing number of people with allergies and intolerances make it sensible to prepare nourishment individually. The individual vitamin and mineral balance in the body can be corrected individually and automatically using nutritional supplements. Diets can be much better and more easily implemented with meals tailored to the current calorie needs. For old and ill people, nutrition can be tailored to medical needs.
All of these things can clearly be achieved without 3D printers – just as three quarters of a century ago meals could also be heated up without a microwave oven. At the time, the new technology was suspect for many people. The devices only made an appearance in the kitchen slowly. Whether the 3D printer will have a similar success history as the microwave oven depends on many factors. The development of the prices for the devices will certainly be decisive. Reducing costs for the new technology will lead to increasing value for industry. And it will ultimately provide the supply as soon as the demand increases.
3D printers have already made the first steps towards suitability for the masses. Not only small companies and start-ups, but also large companies such as the Italian pasta giant, Barilla, have long been researching the new technology. It will probably be a few years before the first mass-produced 3D printers are in our kitchens. But it is certain that the great potential of the new technology has developed a dynamic that will drive advances.
The “classic” applications of the new technology
The production of components using the 3D printing process is represented today in almost all industrial sectors with varying intensity in the production chain. From model and prototype construction to series production, the advantages of additive manufacturing have prevailed, such as the possibility of manufacturing complex components or the elimination of mould construction and the assembly of individual components.
A survey of manufacturers showed that around a quarter of all 3D printers in industrial use are already used to manufacture functional parts. The share of the production of sample parts, tool components and prototypes is therefore still only 7% each.
Here are some examples for the use of 3D printers:
Currently, production using the 3D printing process is not yet an alternative to the classic production of components. However, additive manufacturing is already providing positive impulses and complementing classic component manufacturing. As with many other previous innovations, high-tech sectors such as medical technology, the aerospace industry and motor racing are the “driving forces” of development. The additive production of components will play an increasingly important role in their slipstream in the future.
Lubricants in 3D printing
Whether 3D printers will continue to be integrated into production processes in the future and whether they will play an increasing role in the production of series components will depend not least on the quality of the printers and the printed component itself. In order to ensure a smooth printing process, lubricants are required that do not restrict the performance of the printers.
And in order to accompany the constant development of new printers and printing processes, lubricants are also needed that not only meet current requirements, but also provide scope for consistently good printing results in the future despite ever faster movements and higher temperatures.
Costenoble’s high-quality OSIXO® lubricants and the Krytox™ products from Chemours™ meet these requirements. The PFPE-based lubricants also function reliably under high temperature loads and are optimised for particularly fast-moving components. They ensure constant and long-lasting lubrication of the guideways and bearing points. In addition, they are extremely stable and do not migrate. Therefore, they provide maximum protection against unwanted contamination of the substrate and the finished components.
But OSIXO® and Krytox™ lubricants are not only suitable during the printing process. Their chemical inertness and high product compatibility make them ideal lubricants for components manufactured using the 3D printing process. They are compatible with almost all substrates, do not attack the materials and also have no other negative effect on the surface quality of the components. In many cases, products of the OSIXO® or Krytox™ series can compensate for certain disadvantages of 3D-printed components. They have a rough surface, which can cause increased abrasion. OSIXO® and Krytox™ greases can compensate for this surface roughness and significantly increase the durability of the components. This smoothing of the surface also makes the components less susceptible to penetrating foreign materials such as coolants or cleaning agents.
In conclusion, OSIXO® and Krytox™ products are the ideal companions for a technology that has the potential to optimise the planning and production process over the next few years and to provide developers and engineers with more far-reaching options for manufacturing new components and repairing existing machinery and equipment.
* https://inside.bahn.de/3d-druck-interview/ (in German)
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