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A 3D printer can create sophisticated designs that require less material to make, which lets products be lighter.

by Jayashree M

Usually, removing material from a product to lighten can make it more expensive. Cutting, drilling and machining require extra work and thus incur extra cost. That would normally push a supplier into a market that values weight-saving. At one end of the scale, Formula 1 motor racing, a kilogram saved may be the difference between winning and losing a race. In this business such a kilogram is worth more than $120,000. At the other end, saving a kilogram on equipment which sits on a factory floor is worth only a few rupees.
But with a 3D printer hardly any additional work is needed. Indeed, contrary to accepted wisdom, the lighter a part gets the cheaper it becomes to make, because of the materials saved.
As 3D printers get faster and the quality of their output improves, the market for manufactured goods will change dramatically. Industry needs to rethink the value of additive manufacturing. It is not just a weight reducer but a cost reducer too.
Machines and equipment for 3D printing too are evolving. For instance, after flirting with the concept for some time, Japanese multinational Canon has announced the development of a ceramic 3D printing technology. Yet to be introduced as a machine, Canon’s latest technology is demonstrated through the presentation of a range of proprietary materials, made to be used with selective laser melting (SLM).
Made to match the properties of conventional ceramics, eg. heat and corrosion resistance, high insulation, Canon compares its material’s properties to those achieved through injection molding. It also tackles challenges related to the shrinkage of typical ceramic materials that occurs in the post annealing/baking process.
In another context, 3D printing giants are working together for the common goal of advancing additive manufacturing (AM) for the production of medical models. Materialise—through its FDA-approved Materialise Mimics inPrint software—has validated Stratasys 3D printers and materials for the manufacturing of anatomical models. The validation marks the establishment of what the companies call the “most versatile 3D printing system for point-of-care across hospitals and physicians.” Materialise also certified the Ultimaker S5 3D printer.
In the medical field, patient-specific 3D printed models are becoming increasingly common for pre-surgical planning procedures. The custom models enable surgeons and doctors to better visualise a particular patient’s condition before going to the operating table.

MAKE THEM HAPPEN
Prototype machines come in all sizes and shapes. They maybe 3D printers, they need not be only 3D printers. A CNC could also be used for making a prototype, as much as a thermal foaming machine. Or a clay modeling unit or a foam cutting machine, a robot, it could be anything. So even by hand, prototypes are also positive.
Guruprasad Rao, director & Mentor, Imaginarium India, says, “In the early days, if you are doing anything by hand, it required much skill, and an in-depth understanding of materials. But with the advent of computing and machinery, people are able to do the same job with less effort. With increasing computing power, de-skilling is taking place in some way. So when people actually made the entity, a clay entity, that was given to a CNC, they were able to make the prototypes. But there were lot
of limitations.”
He adds that the organic forms were difficult to make and CNC needs a proper fixture to hold the part. All these became non-existent with 3D printing. 3D printing for the first time de-skilled heavily prototyping activity, that is, a digital entity could be directly fed to the machine, which could be a CNC and a robot. “We sometimes call 3D printers the XY robot. So it was possible to reproduce the CAD with all its features faithfully and accurately by a mechanised unit. So definitely the way people used to make anything has changed forever,” adds Rao.
As 3D printing continues to progress toward industrial applications, industry is taking notice—and not just this one. Manufacturing overall, an approximately $12 trillion global industry, is set to feel the impact of additive manufacturing throughout operations. From new design considerations to a shortening supply chain, industrial 3D printing is changing the shape of industry.
Anand Prakasam, country manager, EOS India, says, “There are three key differences when it comes to comparison of AM machines of the past and the current AM production systems. In the first 20 years, a majority of our customers were into rapid prototyping business. Our systems in the early years did not offer the accuracy which is now needed in production due to a number of factors, e.g. at that time lasers as well as PC support was not as advanced as it is today. In rapid prototyping, the goal was rather to accelerate the product development process. Today, we still have customers in rapid prototyping, but they would just choose other (smaller) systems than those who want to use AM for production and they benefit from the fact that we continue to adjust our technology to the needs of production.”
Another point is the lack of throughput. For example, in the production systems, the cost per part is very important and the systems are equipped with multi lasers. Additionally, the software segmentation plus process parameters are optimised. When it comes to the current AM production systems, the production systems which EOS offers, comes with a shared module concept so that the customers can only invest on the modules of their choice only, to increase the capacity. The prototyping systems don’t have such modular concepts.

CREATING TWINS
3D printing is used in these days by organisations to obtain autonomous, solid and crystal-clear and photorealistic objects using various materials. In this way, one can develop many complex objects and models that were once impossible with a 3D printer. 3D printing is a forthright approach on developing 3D objects layer by layer according to digital design input. 3D technology has been here since the 1980s, though it wasn’t affordable for most of the organisation as it were large, expensive and moreover it was primarily used for industrial prototyping.
3D printing has enabled manufacturers in industries such as automotive, healthcare, dentistry and food for constant innovation in their products and processes. Rapid prototyping technology has been instrumental in improving quality and accuracy and experiment advanced technologies for their products.
3D printing technology has been significant for improving efficiency in product lifecycle and custom manufacturing processes. Other than rapid prototyping several companies are utilising 3D printing in manufacturing processes, to reduce waste and enhance sustainability. Integrating manufacturing processes with a 3D printer will help companies for constant improvements on the product and come up with sustainable solutions in the market.

PROCESSES INVOLVED
Post processing is one of the main steps in the AM process and happens after the AM production process. “It is laborious since this involves conventional technology (eg. support removal, heat treatment, etc). However, if the right parts are selected to produce through AM, then the post processing can be reduced,” says Prakasam. Also, the design planning plays an important role in reducing the support structures as it is a pre-emptive approach to understanding what parts should be produced through AM to achieve the best possible outcome. Therefore, it is important for the end customers to have the right type of training and consulting from the OEM to make AM a gain, he adds.
“Nothing can be printed without a 3D content. For example, in architecture where people make 2D drawings, unless these 2D drawings are converted into 3D entities, they cannot be printed. So it can be any product, but unless it is in digital form or 3D form it cannot be printed. I’ll not say it’s a roadblock, but a requirement,” says Rao.
There are a range of technologies to choose from such as SLA, SLS, Multi Jet Fusion, Binder Jetting, Material Jetting, long laminate object manufacturing, among others.

HERE TO STAY
Additive Manufacturing is still at a nascent stage in India as far as manufacturing is concerned, however more industries are opening up to the technology. That being said, we are still far behind countries such as China and other developed countries. In most cases, the general assumption is that AM is a very expensive process. This lack of awareness makes OEMs hesitant about incorporating AM solutions to make their entire production process more cost-efficient and thereby gain a price advantage. Another key reason is that the AM knowledge in India is very limited due to lack of training in both academia and in the corporate sectors.
With time, Indian companies are realising that if they need to be innovative, competitive AM can be a great leveraging investment. AM is a digital technology and as such, is a key driver of the smart factories of the future with increased flexibility and efficiency. Once implemented, this technology will not only aid in the production of spare parts but, also in the production of newer models and we look forward to seeing how the industry advances. Vendors are now looking at moving towards the productionising of the AM process rather than using the technology for prototyping.
Having an AM process of manufacturing is like participating in a Formula 1 race. To win the race you need a good driver (in AM parlance this is the user/operator) and you need a good technical team to back the car. In AM it is the OEM technical team in the region which offers consulting, training and a strong ecosystem. So, EOS not only offers the top of the line hardware, but also offers consulting services which we call Additive Minds thereby creating winning users/operators and ensure an efficient manufacturing unit and ultimately, a successful business.

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