We started this series of posts on additive manufacturing by asking ourselves if we were on the verge of the next industrial revolution. This does seem to be the case, or so we are led to believe, and every day we hear news of the latest “super-revolutionary” invention related to additive manufacturing: researchers who have succeeded in creating human tissue through additive manufacturing, low cost printers with resolutions unthinkable for FDM technology until very recently, etc.
However, the great challenge for additive manufacturing is still mass production, and until this manufacturing capability is a reality the expected revolution will not take place.
Except in very specific sectors such as the medical sector, where personalization is key, or aeronautics, where the runs are very short and with very specific problems, additive manufacturing has not achieved mass production of the final product, or at least not with the expected impact.
So far, 3D printing has been linked primarily to engineering services, where prototypes and product models are often used to validate a design. After the development of the product, there is usually a transition to a serial process and for this the necessary moulds or tools are made. If we are talking about plastic parts, this process makes sense for large volumes of parts, but for runs of hundreds, or even a few thousand, making a mould may not be profitable.
The constant evolution of existing technologies, or innovations such as HP’s Multi Jet Fusion are beginning to overcome the challenges of 3D printing as a real production solution: speed, cost, quality and mechanical integrity. They are starting to become capable of overcoming these limitations and create parts that have characteristics comparable to those produced by injection moulding, with quality and consistency, in a serial process and in a much shorter period of time.
The average print time for Jet Fusion 3D technology is up to 10 times faster than the FDM & SLS printing solutions currently on the market, which means that the expected transition from the manufacturing of prototypes and short series to large scale production is a little closer.
While this arrives, we will continue to work on our “little revolution”, using our printers in an ever increasing number of fields within IKOR: prototypes, demonstrators, frames, production and testing tools, etc.