Additive manufacturing use cases, by definition, are not defined by the technology itself, but rather the value they create within an organization. This value can come in the form of operational efficiencies, creation of new products and services, or even the transformation of the customer experience. The early days of 3D printing use cases was mostly focused on prototyping. Prototyping is and will still be dominant. However, as 3D printing technologies have become more innovative and less expensive, software more creative, and material choices more plentiful, more use cases are becoming prolific. These use cases come in the form of parts for new products, parts for aftermarket, jigs, fixtures, tools, molds, medical devices, and apparel to name a few.
Parts for New Products
Porsche is 3D printing aluminum pistons for the Porsche 911 G2 RS engine that are more efficient, lighter and stiffer. The superior product was possible due to generative design software, aluminum powder, and the 3d printer advances. Automated computer simulations from the software are the starting point for the maximization of efficient geometries as part of a design scenario. The aluminum alloy is atomized into a fine powder and printed via laser metal fusion.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems has partnered with GE additive to print a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) inlet. The part is printed using laser powder bed fusion techniques. Additional suitable components for metal additive manufacturing, that could prove economically beneficial, have also been identified.
Parts for Aftermarket
Aftermarket parts are those identified as replacement parts that are not made by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
Engineering company Thyssenkrupp and Wilhelmsen’s marine products have partnered to provide 3D printed replacement parts. The maritime industry, with its aging vessels, often requires spare parts that are hard to find, expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. 3D printing spare parts, close to the source reduce lead times and logistics expenses.
Jigs, Fixtures, Molds and Tools
Jigs, fixtures and tooling are crucial elements of the manufacturing process. When one of these breaks, a plant can be down for extended periods of times while waiting for repair. Jabil, a manufacturing services company, has incorporated 3d printing into their manufacturing workflow. They no longer must wait weeks for tooling or complicated parts. 3d printing has enabled them to bring production of tooling, fixtures and manufacturing aids in house, in a matter of days, accelerating new product introductions and customer satisfaction.
The manufacturing of 3D printed prosthetics, hearing aids, splints are not new applications for additive manufacturing. More recently, as bio-friendly materials and methods are advancing, implants that are appearing inside the body are becoming more prevalent. NuVasive, a medical device manufacturer, is combining various Titanium alloy materials with generative design topology optimization software to promote better bone growth into the implant (osseointegration).
The days of standing on Dr Scholl’s kiosk pressure sensor claiming to capture your unique foot characteristics may come to an end. The $50 “Custom fit” isn’t quite custom since the results of your sensor test simply put you in one of a few categories of generic inserts. 3D printing is still used for “true” custom orthotics, but mass customization is the real future trend in the shoe industry, and many shoe manufacturers are already using 3D printing for mass produced shoes. Adidas in very engaged in 3D printing for shoemaking. The perfected midsole manufacturing in their futurecraft line. The shoe’s midsole lattice geometry provides different levels of pressure for the wearers. Nike, New Balance, Ecco and many other manufacturers are using 3D printed in their next generation shoe offerings and this trend is expected continue at a rapid pace.
Looking ahead to 2021 conjures up a feeling of global uncertainty across many industries. Technological advances will be the underpinning to fuel the rise of more value creating use cases in the additive manufacturing space.