A recent Industry Week article says 3-D printing is finally ready to come out of the R&D labs and enter real, hardcore manufacturing in a big way.
3D Systems’ Hugh Evans says: “It was in the 30th year that the Internet really became mainstream and popular,” he said. “It was approximately in the 30th year that the semiconductor industry really went horizontally relevant in many, many sectors.”In our 30th year, we ‘re in that same moment.”
To prove the point, he highlighted a scattershot of exciting projects happening in plants across the world, including everything from GE Aviation’s much touted 3-D printed jet engine fuel nozzle, to the 20 million unique dental features already being churned out by printers at Align Technologies.
“After this 30 years of development, these machines are faster, cheaper, more reliable, more durable and use more materials,” he explained. “Now we’re finally seeing them enter production.”
That transition isn’t without disruption, however. The move requires what Evans calls a “significant shift in mindset” for engineers and designers accustomed to working under the constraints of traditional subtractive techniques. “You ask an engineer how many times their designs are compromised by manufacturability, they’ll say 100% of the time,” he explained. “They always have to do something different for manufacturing constraints or cost constraints.” With 3-D printing, though, those constraints no longer matter. Rather than designing for manufacturability, he said, it’s time to start designing for function.
Quality assurance and quality control remain top concerns with 3-D printing. Repeatability to get the same quality manufacturing output must be achieved.
A number of Ashtabula County manufacturers are experimenting with 3-D printing. It’s not for everybody, but it will occupy a major place in manufacturing in the future.