As you probably know, Fabtech is one of the nation’s largest manufacturing equipment shows and a week worth circling on the calendar every year. More than 48,000 attend and 1,700 companies exhibit to show off the latest in metal manufacturing.
Given 3Diligent’s commitment to always live on the leading edge of manufacturing technologies, we will be there too and we’d love to connect with you while there. There are multiple ways to meet up with us both at and outside the show…
First, given 3Diligent’s broad range of available metal 3D Printing technologies, we’ve been honored with a speaking slot to share our perspective on metal additive with attendees. At 2:30 on Monday in Room S403A, I’ll be on stage to discuss advancements in metal 3D Printing, the applications that are increasingly leveraging metal additive technologies, and a specific case study involving one of our metal additive projects – aluminum 3D printed nodes for the Rainier Square Tower in Seattle. Here are the details if you’re interested in attending.
Also, back by popular demand, we’ll be hosting discussions on top of the city after the trade show closes on Monday and Tuesday at the Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor of the Willis Tower. In these 30 minute meetings, we’d love to reconnect with you to discuss future opportunities and also share some forthcoming enhancements to our software and service. So if you’d like to see what’s coming soon and offer early feedback, it’s a great opportunity to do so. We’ll be hosting discussions from 5:00—7:30 P.M. on Monday and Tuesday.
Whether you’d like to chat at the show or schedule a meeting time on Monday or Tuesday evening, just email email@example.com and we’ll firm up a time to visit!
Not all that long ago we posted a blog about ways that urethane/silicone casting is better than injection molding. While that was certainly true for a significant number of circumstances, there is no doubt that injection molding is the better choice over casting for a substantial number of cases as well. In this post we will examine when those scenarios exist and summarize the ways that injection molding is better than casting.
Injection Molding Delivers a Lower Part Price
Injection molding can deliver more cost-effective part prices than can casting. This is probably the single most relevant input in the decision between the two processes. As production volume increases, so does the value of an automated process that injects and ejects material, respectively, to and from a molding tool. In contrast, casting is inherently manual in nature and the scale economies for urethane casting are not as significant. As a result, the per-part cost of an injection-molded item can be quite low — on the order of pennies or dollars when operating at high volumes — in contrast to casting's per-part cost that can be on the order of 5 to 50 times higher.
Injection Molding Utilizes a Wider Material Set
Another key benefit of injection molding is the wide variety of different materials, as long as they are offered in a pellet form. Even certain resins can be injection molded using the reaction injection molding process. Hence, the breadth of choices for resin and plastic injection molding is far broader than those available to casting; which creates a significant number of potential advantages related to material properties. While advances in polyurethane have enabled flame-retardant material and a wide variety of shore values, the range of casting options still pales in comparison to injection molding.
Injection Molding is Faster at High Quantities
Similar to its pricing benefits, injection molding can deliver significant speed gains at scale. The process of injection molding a part can take on the order of seconds to minutes. In contrast, the underlying process for each cast part can take on the order of minutes to hours. So while the amount of time required to set up for an injection mold may be significantly higher than it is for a cast part, the speed with which each individual part is created means that there is a crossover point where production of a volume of goods will be faster in molding versus casting. Since injection molding tools can take a couple of weeks or longer to set up, this crossover point typically occurs after the production of several 100 to several 1000 parts.
Injection Molding Has a Longer Tool Life
Another key benefit of injection molding over casting is the life of the molding tool. These tools are typically built out of aluminum, stainless, or tool steel. These durable metals can sometimes maintain their form over the course of millions of shots. In contrast, casting tools are far less durable. Silicone and resin can degrade after several dozen to several 100 uses. As a result, they are typically disposable items and those seeking to leverage recurring use of casting molds will want to arrange some kind of maintenance or production plan in advance.
So as we've seen here today there are a wide variety of ways in which injection molding is superior to casting, Just as there are a number of ways that casting is superior to injection molding. Which camp does your program fall into? At 3Diligent, we are happy to offer both technologies so we would encourage you to sign up and submit an RFQ today.
We are very excited to announce that 3Diligent was recently honored as one of the most promising Industry 4.0 startups of 2019 by Startup City Magazine. The award followed the decision of a distinguished panel comprising of analysts, CEOs, CIOs, VCs, and the Editorial Board of Startup City. We are, naturally, extremely proud of the recognition as it comes on the heels of exciting progress for our company and the hard work of our team.
Check out this extract from the article and give the whole thing a read if you have a minute!
Achieving success in the Industry 4.0 era requires companies to embrace an unprecedented rate of change. New machines and materials are announced with breathtaking frequency. Additive manufacturing technologies are perhaps the poster child of this next Industrial Revolution. It plays a central role in the promise of Industry 4.0 through its ability to produce extraordinarily complex products with effectively zero tooling costs. This means next generation products can be developed for enhanced performance and mass customized in a quick, economical manner.
With all of these shifting dynamics, the high rates of obsolescence tied to these emerging technologies and the opportunity to create true competitive advantage by navigating this path successfully, the stakes are high when it comes to digital manufacturing decisions. Naturally, the path isn't without its fair share of dead ends and wrong turns. Buying machines can be a costly option fraught with obsolescence risk. Sourcing externally doesn't provide an easy solution either, as even the biggest job shops are limited in the number of machines and materials they can bring to bear.
Aiming to mitigate these complex industry challenges, 3Diligent offers a different approach to deliver a one-stop-shop to its customers. Like Amazon or Airbnb, it has network qualified manufacturers around the world with the complete range of machines and materials manufacturers seek. For customers with custom parts they seek to have quoted, they need only submit a simple request for quotation(RFQ) on its secure portal at www.3diligent.com. 3Diligent takes care of the rest by leveraging its proprietary software to assess, price, and fulfill orders.
Both 3D Printing and CNC Machining are driven by CAD files. As a result, generating tool paths can be largely automated for both processes. That being said, 3D Printing excels at creating organic geometries — curved surfaces, high degrees of complexity, and similar builds. CNC machines generally struggle with gently arcing surfaces, requiring extra time and tool changes to deliver this complexity. On the contrary, due to the additive nature of 3D Printing, the issue of including additional detail during the manufacturing process is almost of no temporal consequence.
3D Printing can uniquely deliver internal features in its build parts. With CNC machines, the tool needs access to the feature to be machined. As a result, the interior areas of CNC parts are filled and solid; hollow only when machining two or more pieces that will be welded together in a post-process. The additive nature of 3D printers, on the contrary, simply skips the vacant areas during the phase of deposition. A notable exception to this rule is the requirement for internal support structures in certain hollow designs.
Another feature that 3D printers can deliver is the lattice structure. These builds are generally impractical to machine and, when they are internal to a part, feasibly impossible. 3D Printing is basically the perfect lattice building technology. Because these processes place materials layer by layer in mostly any location, they're able to build up lattice structures and customize their shape to deliver particular performance characteristics like stiffness, elasticity, or failure modes.
CNC Machining and 3D printing are the two leading technologies when it comes to one-off designs. Both are driven by CAD files and are capable of creating singular parts with relative ease — compared to the tool creation required by casting an injection molding technologies. However, 3D Printing generally gets the nod when it comes to one-off production. While machining generally does not require the creation of tools, there are circumstances when custom fixtures need to be created for a machined part to allow for the machinist to access all relevant features of a design. In contrast with this, 3D Printing is a completely tool-less technology; simply fit in a design and get an output. As noted previously, the output may have supports that require a degree of post-processing effort, but nevertheless, a single unit comes very easily from a 3D Printing process.
Mass Personal Customization
Following on two of the earlier points about organic geometries and one-offs, 3D printers outperform CNC machines in the domain of mass personal customization. There is a strong trend toward providing customers unique opportunities to customize products that meet their very personal needs. This is especially notable in the medical field when we talked about custom orthodontics, teeth aligners, and more. When it comes to these sorts of applications, 3D Printing definitely crushes CNC Machining. Because 3D Printing delivers an extreme variety of different geometries, with limited care to the complexity or geometry at hand, even at quantities of one, it has emerged as a leading tool for mass personal customization. You need only look to the success of Invisalign or Smile Direct Club as examples of 3D Printing's ability to deliver mass personal customization.
A last area where 3D Printing outperforms CNC Machining is in inventory flexibility with regards to raw stock. CNC Machining requires a workpiece from which the design is carved away. This is one reason why blocky shapes tend to be better suited for CNC Machining. You simply need to chip away a little bit of material and you will arrive at your end part. With CNC Machining, however, you need raw stock that is in the shape of your final product to be economically viable. If your part has an extremely high scrap ratio, which is to say that you are carving away a lot of excess material from your starting work piece, the project can become highly uneconomical for your business. As a result, you need to have the right raw stock pieces to deliver CNC parts economically; and if you work with a wide variety of different parts, you need to stock a variety of material options to be efficient with your machine. In contrast, 3D printers are immensely flexible when it comes to their manufacturing process. Generally speaking, 3D printers operate off of filament or powder inputs that are basically one-size-fits-all. A highly condensed container of powder or filament can be delivered and stocked, and that in turn can create basically any geometry.
3D Printing outperforms CNC Machining on a wide variety of applications and use cases. As we touched on today, 3D Printing crushes CNC in many cases, but just as CNC Machining kicks 3D Printing's butt in its own universe of applications. It's all a matter of use and — thankfully at 3Diligent — we are capable of supporting you with whichever path you choose to go down.
Powder Bed Fusion and Binder Jetting are two of the most common classes of metal 3D Printing technology. Each one provides unique advantages and considerations as it relates to meeting the needs of different applications. Powder Bed Fusion has grabbed headlines in the industry for the longest, but binder jetting's emergence has grabbed its fair share of headlines as well. Could either process be the solution for one of your applications? Here we provide a quick tale of the tape, comparing these two popular metal 3D Printing process families.
Powder Bed Fusion
Powder Bed Fusion involves the use of a focused energy source - commonly an infrared laser or electron beam - to selectively melt layers of metal powder. This process results in highly dense parts that provide strengths typically surpassing cast parts (and occasionally forged parts).
As its name would suggest, Binder Jetting involves the targeted jetting of a binding agent to hold particles of powdered material together. This process takes place layer-by-layer to produces a "green part," basically a fragile matrix of metal held together with adhesive. This part can then be used for non-stress applications or more commonly undergoes post-processing steps, most notably sintering.
How accurate are these processes? How reliably do they deliver that accuracy? Or said in the most straightforward engineering terms, which tolerances can they hold?
As Low As .001"
Powder Bed Fusion technologies are very accurate, with some technologies capable of achieving tolerances as tight at .001" (25 microns). It should be noted that metal Powder Bed Fusion is generally expected to meet tolerances of .005" +/- .002" per inch, and certain powder bed technologies like Electron Beam Melting have global tolerances that are looser than that. Generally speaking, Powder Bed Fusion is more accurate than Full Sinter Binder Jetting.
Binder Jetting is a relatively accurate 3D Printing technology, but much of its accuracy depends on what level of post-processing you have in mind for your print. Since we are specifically looking at metal 3D Printing, then for the purposes of this discussion we are weighing Full Sinter Binder Jetting and Infiltrated Binder Jetting. Full sinter involves the creation of a green part, but then sintering that part in an oven once the shape is set — which results in roughly 20% shrinkage and creates a challenge in delivering tight tolerances. This is not as noticeable with certain types of geometries and smaller parts. Additionally, this can be improved through repeated manufacturing. Nonetheless, its default tolerances are higher. Infiltrated Binder Jetting doesn't experience the same degree of shrinkage because the metal matrix is filled with another lower-melting-temperature metal instead of allowing the matrix to sinter down on itself. Still, the nod generally goes to powder bed when we talk about accuracy.
How expensive are these processes? Both relative to each other and to more traditional metal manufacturing processes like CNC, Casting, or Metal Injection Molding?
Cost Effective for Intricate Designs
Powder Bed Fusion prints are generally pretty expensive. The underlying energy source - an expensive laser or electron beam - is quite expensive. The powder commonly required for these machines is also more refined than that required for binder jetting, also driving up cost. Generally speaking, Powder Bed Fusion becomes the most cost effective solution when a part has been designed with the process in mind. This means the designer has eliminated unnecessary mass and structured the part to be self-supporting throughout the build.
Lower Cost Inputs = Lower Cost Outputs
By jetting binding agent rather than accurately tracing a path, Binder Jetting can effectively arrive at a geometry much faster than Powder Bed Fusion. While this analogy oversimplifies things (especially for Electron Beam Melting), Binder Jetting is a paint brush to Powder Bed Fusion's pen or pencil. This approach gives Binder Jetting particular usefulness for chunkier parts that still have a good bit of complexity. Augmenting this reduction in machine time, Binder Jetting leans on lower cost solutions to create geometries. Glue and an oven are decidedly cheaper than a fiber laser or electron beam. Additionally, Binder Jetting doesn't require the same fine granulated powders that powder bed systems do — this means cost savings as well.
Which materials can each technology process? Is there a broader range of materials available to one process or the other? How do material options compare to traditional manufacturing technologies?
Selective Due to Economics
Nearly every metal can be used in Powder Bed Fusion systems. Certain powder bed systems are better at processing high temperature materials whereas others are more conducive to lower-melting-temperature materials. Generally driving this is the extent to which the powder bed chamber is heated during manufacturing. Lower temperature chambers can be more prone to cracking and internal stress when processing high temperature materials. More than capability is actually economics when it comes to commonly available materials for Powder Bed Fusion. Materials commonly associated with less critical applications (e.g., iron) are not as prevalent as higher value metals like Titanium, Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Copper, and Nickel Inconel superalloys (e.g., 625, 718).
Limited Due To Nascency
Because the first step of Binder Jetting's process simply involves binding particles of metal together with glue, it offers tremendous material flexibility, in theory.1 Materials such as sand, gypsum, metal, and plastic can be bound with the Binder Jetting process. With regards to the next step — sintering — some limitations emerge. The extreme temperatures required for melting titanium, for instance, are challenging within a sinter furnace. Stainless Steel is the most common material used in the Full Sinter Binder Jetting process, in part because its behavior with regards to shrinkage in the sintering step is perhaps best understood.
Will the process deliver me the density I need for repeated cycles and fatigue?
99.5% and Up
Powder Bed Fusion delivers dense parts. Straight off the machine, density is typically north of 99.5%. This is significantly above the density of cast parts, which typically run around 98% dense. This is one key consideration in how PBF parts can deliver better-than-cast material properties. Additionally, parts can undergo a Hot Isostatic Press (HIP) post-processing step to bring density within a hair of 100%.
The Binder Jetting process generally cannot deliver the same density as Powder Bed Fusion parts. Quite simply, while the sintering process can create density typically on par with cast parts, it does not achieve complete density. This level of density is appropriate for many applications. However, for certain tasks with high cycle time fatigue concerns, this may be a limiting factor. Again, Hot Isostatic Press (HIP) as a post-process step can be used to improve overall density.
Does one process provide unique advantages when it comes to available geometries? Do each operate with the same design constraints?
Master of Complex Lattices
When it comes to design, Powder Bed Fusion offers a great deal of design freedom. Relative to traditional manufacturing processes, powder bed is capable of processing extraordinarily complex designs just as fast - actually faster - than standard blocks of material. Especially with laser systems, very fine features can be achieved. We generally don't recommend features smaller than 1mm, although we commonly can resolve them. In general, this allows for extraordinarily complex lattice structures to eliminate weight while retaining strength. Notable to consider is that Powder Bed Fusion systems generally require the inclusion of supports, made from the same material as the part, to prevent the metal from warping under the rapid heating and cooling that occurs during the process. Certain powder bed platforms operate with a heated chamber which reduces the need for such supports, but that can create other design considerations. Either way, you should try to design your part to be self-supporting. Just imagine if your part was a skyscraper — would any aspect of it need scaffolding to be built? This is critical, because parts designed without supports in mind can drive the price of a part up more than 50%.
Support Needs Reduced, But Sintering Must Be Considered
The Binder Jetting process does not have the same support restrictions as powder bed systems because there isn't a thermal component to creating the green part. With that being said, the post-processing step can be problematic for fine features, as the green part shrinks in size by 15-20%. This can also come with the threat of internal stresses. As a result, binder jetting parts are generally limited to sizes smaller than a fist for cost-effective printing and sintering.
The Bottom Line
It's really a tie. Depending on the part you've designed, the quantities you seek, the material you desire, and the performance you require, either process might carry the day. The good news is that 3Diligent offers both of these 3D printing technologies (any many more!), and our experts can help you design to take advantage of either process.
I had the distinct privilege of being invited to and attending a recent session at the World Economic Forum — Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco. It was a remarkable experience for a handful of reasons; and I thought that I would take this opportunity to share a bit about the experience with our blog readers.
The World Economic Forum and 3Diligent
So for starters, I figure it best to establish what the World Economic Forum is, what it does, and what its goals are. Frankly, my understanding of the World Economic Forum prior to this event was largely that of a trade organization — it pulls together leaders from across the world of business. For that reason, I know that there seem to be annual protests at their event in Davos, Switzerland because the folks participating are in decision-maker positions. Upon arrival, I realized that the World Economic Forum is focused on advancing the standing of humankind. Obviously, they view trade as a key means of doing that. However, important to the purpose is understanding the way that new technologies are impacting the world, the disruption that it may potentially have on humanity, and articulating potential solutions so that governmental organizations — who are typically slower to act than businesses — can effectively govern and minimize adverse impacts.
Therefore, it was with this context that I was invited to the 3D Printing and Trade Logistics working session at the world economic forum's center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco earlier this week. We at 3Diligent were honored to be invited as a company that possesses significant visibility into the market and a very active day-to-day role in engaging with those companies and the manufacturing organizations that are making use of the technology.
What Will 3D Printing Headlines Look Like in 20-50 Years?
The first thing that we did at the World Economic Forum, after a few introductory remarks, was to think about headlines from 20-50 years in the future that might be related to 3D Printing. The ideas that the group landed on were really interesting…
Changing of the Guard
One set of thinkers anticipated a complete "changing of the guard" in terms of leadership in the aerospace industry — tied to upstart organizations who had advanced 3D Printing to a point where there planes were almost entirely 3D printed to provide unmatched fuel savings and price competitiveness in the transport market.
Bio 3D Printing to Prevent Remote, Fatal Accidents
Another group of thinkers anticipated a hypothetical calamitous event in a National Park where an individual had lost an appendage. New arms, ears, or eyes could be printed on demand and airlifted to the site of the carnage so that they can make a rapid recovery — instead of what would have normally been almost certain death.
Bio 3D Printing for Survival in Extreme Environments
Yet another group of thinkers anticipated a colony of autonomous humanoid beings, derived from advanced Bio 3D Printing technologies, capable of living in the depths of the Marianas Trench — tens of thousands of feet underwater — due to adaptations that 3D printers were capable of providing to them.
In brief, some pretty crazy stuff — but "crazy" only in so far that this group of industry leaders felt that the stories were entirely plausible within the next 30 Years.
A Challenge Resulting from Future Developments
Next, we began considering some of the key challenges that such future developments would have on human society, as well as actions that could be taken to address those challenges. Our group listed out a healthy set of challenges, broadly tied to themes including the workforce, security, business models, ethical/moral, cross-border flows, and standardization.
Workforce Displacement from Robots and AI
By far the consensus concern was something that we hear regularly in this day and age, and it is the disruption to the workforce that the rise of robots and AI may bring about. The group, on the whole, was not extraordinary concerned about this displacement in the near-term. As the number of studies have called out, the rise of digital manufacturing is actually creating many more jobs than it is eliminating; and this is especially true for developed economies.
In places like the United States, Europe, and Japan, the possibility of eliminating a chunk of the "labor cost input" to a digitally manufactured part means that new levels of competitiveness are possible. These more expensive countries still suffer from the need to cover the cost of more expensive real estate on for their plants to sit on. However, the ability of 3D printers — especially to occupy very small spaces while still achieving near peak efficiency — is what mitigates this issue on some level.
Therefore, there is a higher likelihood that the market penetration of these machines has the effect of localizing or at least regionalizing manufacturing and restoring a lot of jobs. This obviously has the counterpoint of potentially preventing less-developed nations from coming up the curve that other countries have through serving as a source of low-cost manufacturing labor.
I got the feeling in the room that the net good would outweigh the net harm, at least over the next couple decades. With that in mind, the consensus opinion was that governmental organizations and private organizations — as well as public-private partnerships — could do a lot in the very near future by investing in training and retraining programs to empower a new generation of digital manufacturing experts. The remarkable opportunities that digital manufacturing is opening up will only be realized if we have an educated workforce — capable of understanding and taking full advantage of these technologies.
We dug in on each of the other major thematic areas, but I think that's enough for one blog. Perhaps we'll post them at a future date but for now, I'm interested to hear if anyone reading this article has their own perspective on the biggest challenges that the rise of digital manufacturing — and especially 3D printing — will bring about in the decades to come. If so, then what they view as the best solutions to addressing these future challenges.
Farther afield, in the Netherlands and in China, bridges have been constructed using 3D printers to create unique and aesthetically intriguing additions to their pedestrian thoroughfares. In Dubai, the first 3D printed office building is up and operational. And in the Philippines, the first 3D printed hotel has been commissioned.
So what does it all mean? Is the future of construction 3D printed? Are elements of construction untouchable by 3D printers, no matter how long we wait? We will unpack some of these questions in the paragraphs that follow.
Dramatic Geometries Made Easier
One thing that has defined the architectural industry, for effectively its entire existence, is the desire to create statements with buildings. 3D Printing offers a new and remarkably adept tool at achieving this end. With regards to the Rainier Tower project and the related curtain walls developed by Walters and Wolf, to achieve the unique aesthetic they desired, 3D Printing was the preferred technology of choice. With metal powder bed 3D Printing (MPBF), Walters and Wolf felt as though the consistency of the printed parts and the strategic flexibility it offered was superior to investment casting. While casting has been around for a lot longer, it couldn't deliver in quite the same way across 140 unique geometries the way that our powder bed fusion printers could.
If you roll it all up, the highly complex nodes and the different geometries that additive manufacturing was able to directly facilitate in a relatively cost-effective fashion made it a great choice for the task at hand. This will come to reflect a broader trend in architecture. While the existing mass production infrastructure for large-scale steel beams and girders should continue to provide the structural basis for our tall buildings for some time to come, aesthetic elements that provide uniqueness and intrigue to architectural statement pieces are truly made feasible by 3D Printing in a way that previously wasn't either possible or plausible, given the economics and limitations of other traditional manufacturing processes.
Organic Geometries Will Appear with Greater Frequency
Another phenomenon that we regularly see a 3Diligent is that 3D Printing has helped enable organic geometries that are otherwise extraordinarily challenging to fabricate with traditional technologies. Notable among these are gradually-arcing designs that draw inspiration from the curved shapes that we see all over nature. 3D Printing opens the door to more of these geometry types, empowering more buildings with gradually sloping organic shapes as you might see in a Calatrava design or a Guggenheim Museum. You'll note that virtually every 3D printed building takes advantage of this feature, as it effectively adds no incremental cost to the building's construction itself. Your ability to hang paintings, however, might hit a snag. To reference a classic hammer seeking a nail story, perhaps this is the dream nail that the curved TV screen hammer has been looking for all these years!
CAD Software's Unique Creations Can Be Easily Visualized and Transmitted to 3D Printing Processes
The last area that we see 3D Printing being used in architecture - and this is the longest tenured use case - is in modeling applications. In recent years, architects have increasingly moved toward designing in CAD software. This provides them much greater flexibility than a drawing board to make design edits. Further, it provides customers 3-dimensional renderings of the spaces they have dreamed up.
These CAD design files are readily transferable to 3D Printers. So when architects wish to not simply take clients on a virtual journey, but to provide them a tangible model, 3D Printing provides architects a ready means to do exactly that. Such prints can be produced in full color to fully realize the space. In doing so, certain experiential aspects can be accounted for in a way that may not be truly possible with digital rendering - or without having a computer and screen handy.
3Diligent's Take: 3D Printing in Architecture and Construction
The ability to create unique, dramatic architectural elements more easily and cost effectively, to build new organic buildings from the ground up, and to realize full-color and to-scale models demonstrates three key ways in which 3D Printing is affecting architecture and construction today. As more headlines like Rainier Square and the ICON houses capture the attention of the masses, we expect to see further exploration of what is achievable with 3D Printing, and additive manufacturing will soon become a key input to any architectural endeavor, especially those developments where the developers and architects want to make a statement.
In our previous blog post, we examined how 3D printers affect how we design, how quickly products get to market, how we make tools, and how we fix things. But is that the extent to which additive manufacturing will be felt? The answer is a decided no. Additive is already opening doors to bigger impacts down the road. In today's post we will spell out how 3D Printing will change manufacturing in the future.
3D Printing Will Change the Definition of High Performance Parts
During the last post, we highlighted how 3D Printing is affecting the way that we design. This impact has largely centered around how quickly we can develop new products and arrive at better designs. Overwhelmingly, designs are still in this phase, orienting around legacy manufacturing technologies. In particular, parts are designed for casting or injection molding as the expected means of mass production. That is beginning to change with improved speeds and decreased costs of 3D Printing. Up to this point, 3D printers have been fighting a game with one hand tied behind their back. Uniquely capable of achieving geometries that are otherwise impossible, 3D printers have largely been allocated against printing designs that are readily made with other technologies. And as a function of that, 3D printers are rarely the current choice for mass production. That may be changing.
Since machines are getting faster and more cost-effective, designers and procurement managers are considering whether 3D Printing will change manufacturing in terms of scalability. For production runs in the thousands or tens of thousands, this may be the case; especially if the designs were created with 3D Printing in mind. Take for instance the GE fuel nozzle. It serves as a benchmark example of how a company was able to create a better performing product and fabricate it more cost-effectively through the use of additive manufacturing. At this moment, the examples of those high performance additive parts are largely limited to the aerospace and medical sectors. However, we have every reason to believe that the industrial, energy, consumer products, and automotive markets are right on course to embrace additive similarly. Recent announcements from Ford and Gillette reinforce this notion.
3D Printing Will Change Supply Chain Management
Another key way in which 3D Printing will change manufacturing in the months, years, and decades to come is in how we will manage our supply chain. As companies unlock the design potential of 3D Printing with higher performance parts that take full advantage of additive manufacturing ability to create organic shapes, lattice structures, gradient alloys, or unique material formulations, the only viable option for fabricating these parts will be 3D Printing. Once that occurs, the structure of the traditional supply chain will fall apart. No longer will it be practical to have fabrication take place in far-away, low-cost countries when there is virtually no labor input to the parts. The cost combined with the delay of maritime shipping will bring fabrication much closer to the end customer. As a result, fabrication of end-use parts or sub-assemblies may occur at forward locations in the supply chain: the distributor, retail, or even consumer level. We refer to this as the supply web.
Instead of a relatively direct chain that connects a product from a low-cost center of mass production - to a semi local distribution center - to a local retail location - to an end consumer, fabrication may instead take place at any step along that path. A geographic overlay of how parts feed into this production flow looks more like a web than a chain. This will have a profound impact on the way companies manage their own supply chain. Their traditional partners may not be suited for a supply web world and they may need to entertain new partners who are prepared for this paradigm. Additionally, companies may increasingly consider managing their own fleets of 3D printers. Doing so may provide them an opportunity to potentially create cost savings for their end products.
3D Printing Will Change How We Keep Inventory
As noted previously, 3D Printing will change the way we look at supply chain. For companies that fully utilize 3D Printing's ability for localized manufacturing, inventory management practices will fundamentally change as well. Unlike a traditional manufacturing environment where asset production order is established and a certain amount of safety stock is kept of a given SKU, 3D Printing will instead allow for on-demand fabrication of parts as demand signals dictate. Gone will be the days of requiring huge advanced commitments to quantitysince the parts can be fabricated on demand. Again, one of the core challenges to this is simply how many machines are available to fulfill the program. That is why distributed fabrication solutions such as 3Diligent may be an intriguing partner to companies, given the relatively elastic supply of a distributed fabrication solution.
3D Printing Will Change the Way We Customize Products
A final way in which 3D Printing will fundamentally change manufacturing is in how we customize products. Customization is already a main focus of current manufacturing methods. However, the product itself is not truly customized for the customer. Rather, the combination of parts is customized. Take for instance a personalized elbow or knee brace. In the current paradigm, each component is set to a size of small, medium, or large; and the most extensive customization may be in combining those constituent parts. Another customization may be in picking a particular color or material. This is not true customization.
3D Printing will facilitate truly customized products at a massive scale. In this future state, an individual's unique body geometry can be scanned and fabricated on demand to fit those exact dimensions in ways not currently possible. Personalization of that part may extend beyond the shape and into the color or design imprinted upon it. We point here to the most extreme case where every customer has his or her own unique SKU. But the likelihood exists that there are many gradients between the current state of customization today and that full massively bespoke reality as well. As we touched on in our previous discussion, the rapid iteration cycles that 3D Printing facilitates also mean that different product designs can be tried out in different markets and many additional SKU's can be effectively supported. We believe 3D Printing will change customization by moving towards digital media or advertising. Products will be put into market relatively affordably for customers to react to and the ones that succeed can gain greater traction in market.
Summary: 3D Printing Has Even Bigger Impacts on Manufacturing to Come
In our previous blog post we called out the ways that 3D printing has already changed the world of manufacturing. And while those changes are significant, we think the changes still to come are even more impactful to manufacturing as we know it. The changes to come are massive, including improving the performance of parts through enabling entirely new geometries and material combinations, changing the way our supply chain is structured, impacting the way we think about just-in-time inventory, and lastly in the way that we customize parts to individual desires. It's going to be a fun trip, and at 3Diligent, we're excited to be your sherpas for that journey.
Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West is billed as:
Where serious professionals find the technologies, education, and connections to stay ahead in the global medical manufacturing community. In addition to more than 1,900 cutting-edge suppliers showcasing the latest solutions in contract manufacturing, manufacturing equipment, automation, R&D, medical device components, materials, plastics, and more, MD&M West hosts the largest three-day medtech conference in North America.
Our panel discussion, entitled “The Key Differences & Benefits in Printing with Metal vs. Plastics” takes place on Tuesday, February 5 from 9:15 AM- 10:00 AM in hall 208B. The session is billed as follows:
As the use of 3D printers in manufacturing gets more mainstream, the question remains: what is the best material for your application? This panel will drill down into the different types of materials currently being used in AM — such as steel, aluminum, titanium, nitinol, carbon fiber, PLA, ABS, PVA — and explain the key differences and benefits in printing with them. Discussion topics include lightweighting, merging multiple parts into fewer components, reducing tooling costs, producing less waste, and greater design freedom.
So the big news today is that Desktop Metal has secured more financing. Koch Disruptive Technologies led a round of 160 million USD, which brings total funding funding since 2015 to 438 million USD. The implications of this are various. Over the course of this blog post we will unpack them.
Desktop Metal Funding Will Support Production System Coming to Market
The first key implication is tactical. Desktop Metal, a company that has developed metal 3D Printing technologies, is now preparing to push its products into market in a meaningful way. The first product, it's Studio System, leverages an extrusion technology, similar to the plastic extrusion tech popularized by brands like MakerBot. The key difference is that the input material here is largely composed of metal. Once deposited onto the build tray in the desired shape, the metal is then fired in a furnace to remove any non metallic particles and sinter the remaining parts. This technology was introduced last year and its launch was partially marred by various patent battles between Desktop Metal's founder and the founder of Markforged, another metal 3D Printing OEM with extrusion 3D Printing technologies.
In our opinion, however, this round focuses less on the Studio System and more on the binder jetting system that will supposedly enter the market in 2020. The binder jetting system should operate at decidedly faster speeds in the extrusion ecosystem for large production runs. This process involves dispensing an adhesive into a bed of metal powder to construct shapes and then moving these "green parts" into a furnace for the final sintering step. In summation, we can all assume that the funding speaks to Desktop Metal's desire to fund both the manufacturing of its Production System and also its Studio System.
Koch Investment Signals Bright Future for Metal Additive in Industrial Products
The second key take away from this announcement is its strategic implication for the entire metal 3D Printing market. The core expectation around Koch Disruptive Industries' investment is a rising faith in the legitimacy behind the Production System and binder jetting's ability to produce large-scale production runs in metal. Koch, a company in-the-know when it comes to industrial fabrication, has clearly come out to support this tech in a big way. This signals not only an important step in advancing adoption of metal additive beyond the well-established niche of medical and aerospace markets, but rather a broader penetration of more price-sensitive and volume-dependent industrial markets. In the same breath, it signals a shot across the bow to Hewlett-Packard who has made significant investments in promoting its own binder jetting technology. These two companies have been teasing their offerings repeatedly at trade shows over the last few years with HP offering parts built on their system today via select partners in a limited capacity. Strategically we recognize that metal 3D Printing for mass-market fabrication is seemingly an inevitability with both HP and Desktop Metal, not to mention the other players that have introduced production-grade metal binder jetting systems.
Desktop Metal Valuation Growth Implies Progress But Still a Good Bit of Work to Do
That brings us to the financial and market implications of this announcement. As we alluded to previously, there are a handful of binder jetting OEM's already in the market. Some of these operate from a service or design standpoint. Others sell machines. Clearly the impending entry of Desktop Metal's Production System will add another competitor to the market. It bears mentioning that Desktop Metal was late in shipment of its Studio System, and it may stand to reason that the Koch investment ties to their experience bringing industrial products to market. Additionally, the valuation's increase of 50% over the last fundraiser two years ago may not necessarily be the kind of valuation uptick that you might expect from a story like this. You can point to companies like Uber that watched far more meteoric rises in valuation. This makes sense given that Desktop Metal is still getting its footing with the Studio System and the Production System.
There are a number of key takeaways from this announcement. The biggest being that production metal 3D Printing for the industry - not just aerospace and medical - is rapidly becoming a reality. While the true impact of this investment will not be felt until 2020 or beyond, we are nonetheless seeing the gradual maturation of the metal 3D Printing industry.