Urethane/Silicone Casting vs. Plastic Injection Molding

At 3Diligent we work in a variety of manufacturing processes. That’s because they all offer different strengths and weaknesses, and it's our intention to always provide the best solution possible to our customers. Which brings us to today's installment of our manufacturing process smackdown series: the key ways that urethane and silicone casting outperforms plastic injection molding.

Lower Fixed Costs

Urethane Casting vs Plastic Injection Molding draft angle widescreenIt's well documented that injection molding offers highly cost-effective options for large volumes of parts. But what about when you only need a few dozen or a few hundred parts for your application? In relatively low volume circumstances, urethane casting can be a much better way to go. Since the cost of tooling involved with creating a mold for silicone or urethane casting is so much lower than engineering and constructing an aluminum or steel injection molding tool, you can typically bring your first few dozen or hundred units to market at a fraction of the cost. This in turn provides you with strategic flexibility when it comes to products that may not have high enough market demand to justify an expensive tool. This circumstance might exist when you're bringing a product to market and unsure of how fast it will fly off the shelves, or when annual demand has been established as relatively small, and casting nets out to a lower cost than building and maintaining an injection molding tool.

Faster Turnarounds

Castings can be turned around at a much faster rate for the first several parts than can injection molding. With urethane and silicone castings, the creation of a tool can be done in a matter of hours or days.  This is especially true of urethane cast parts, where the tool is typically constructed by putting a "pattern" part into a container and surrounding it with the mold material, which proceeds to set around the object (the object is removed after curing to create the void into which urethane is poured for your part. Creating resin tools is often done by 3D printing them, which may take days at most, but still quite quick. The actual part creation process is moderately fast, as the silicone or urethane may require hours to set once poured into the mold. In contrast, the creation of an injection molding tool is a significant mental exercise as well as a physical one. This means both mold creation time and labor components are higher than they are for casting molds. The higher labor component also contributes to overseas production of injection molding tools, which also an increase in shipping time for parts. For these reasons, urethane casting can deliver much faster turnarounds so long as quantities are relatively small.

Design Flexibility

Urethane Casting vs Plastic Injection Molding draft angle widescreen

With urethane casting you have a higher degree of design flexibility than you do with injection molds. For starters, injection molding requires consideration of a draft angle throughout the design. In brief, surfaces of an injection molded part need to have a slight angle to them so that they can be readily ejected by the injection molding tool. In contrast, urethane cast parts can have straight lines because the nature of the process does not require a draft angle.  Because the mold itself is flexible and mold release agent can be applied to it, parts can be removed from the casting mold without the same issues you encounter with a metal tool.  This also means that undercut features can be incorporated into cast parts in a way that isn't plausible for injection molding. Additionally, having a consistent wall thickness ratio throughout your part is less relevant to urethane casting than it is to injection molding. Due to the heat involved in the injection molding process, careful attention to heat transfer must be considered when designing the part. If very thin walls are connected to to thick ones, the likelihood of warpage due to heat transfer that take the part out of its tolerance range is a real threat. In contrast, the urethane casting process is not impacted significantly by heat, mitigating this concern.

Conclusion

While sometimes overlooked due to injection molding's popularity for scale production, urethane and silicone casting can provide an extremely valuable solution to businesses bringing products to market or sustaining production of low volume parts. By mitigating the up-front costs of bringing production parts to market, it can provide a level of strategic flexibility and cost savings if the circumstances of your program are right. Additionally, the speed with which new casting molds and parts can be fabricated can provide you great strategic flexibility to test different designs before scaling production. Lastly, the design flexibility that casting grants you can be powerful in delivering you the exact part design you want. For all these reasons, urethane and silicone casting may be a great solution for you.

3Diligent Speaking Schedule

It's been an exciting year of speaking for 3Diligent that picks up steam again in a few short weeks.

3Diligent's CEO Cullen Hilkene will be presenting the kickoff keynote address at the 3D Metal Printing Experience and Tech Tour in Novi, Michigan. Arguably the leading conference dedicated to 3D Metal Printing, the conference provides attendees the opportunity to hear from industry leaders on the state of the industry and develop a better perspective on how 3D Metal Printing can be used in the furtherance of their business goals.

In the presentation, Cullen will be speaking to the growing list of metal 3D Printing technologies, their advantages and tradeoffs, and providing a few anecdotal stories from 3Diligent.

If you can't catch Cullen in the Detroit area in a couple weeks, be sure to have a look at our complete speaking schedule below!

3D Metal Printing

Detroit

August 6 — 8:45 A.M.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Metal 3D Printing: An Overview of Trends and Processes

3Diligent at ILMA Annual Meeting

ILMA Annual Meeting

Colorado Springs

September 23 — 2:30 P.M.

Presentation regarding how additive manufacturing is impacting metalworking fluids, as well as manufacturing in general.

3Diligent at WESTEC 2019

WESTEC

Long Beach

September 24 — 2:25 P.M.

KEYNOTE ADDRESS
An overview of the state of metal 3D Printing as well as a case study on how metal 3D Printing was used to complete the unique look of an impending Seattle high rise.

3Diligent at FABTECH 2019

FABTECH

Chicago

November 11 — 2:00 P.M.

How Metal 3D Printing Helped Manufacture Unique Look of Seattle High-Rise has been accepted in the 3D Additive Manufacturing track. Presentation Title: How Metal 3D Printing Helped Manufacture Unique Look of Seattle High-Rise
Track: 3D Additive

Four Ways CNC Machining Still Beats 3D Printing

There has been a lot of hype in the last few years for 3D Printing. This is understandable, given its capabilities of delivering geometries that other technologies cannot, and to do so without external intervention — like fixturing. That being said, 3D Printing is not the be-all, end-all for Digital Manufacturing. In fact, CNC Machining, the longtime-standard for Digital Manufacturing, surpasses 3D Printing in a wide variety of tasks — sometimes even at quantities of one. In this article we will lay out four ways CNC still beats 3D Printing.

Better at Tight Tolerance Parts

cnc machining, cnc millingCNC Machining is generally better than 3D Printing at creating tight tolerance parts — for a handful of reasons. First, and most notably, CNC Machining's been around longer. That means that precision control has been refined to a point where regularly delivering tolerances of .005" is commonplace; additionally — in the 3Diligent network — certain precision machinists can deliver .0005". In contrast, the 3D Printing processes are all relatively new and, as a result, have not been refined and optimized over as many decades to deliver super tight tolerances. It's worth noting that certain 3D Printers have been built to service micro-scale parts, and these can and do deliver tight tolerances, but that is limited to tiny parts, and more than just an exception for the technology than the norm.

Beyond sheer technological maturity, most in-market 3D Printing processes will struggle to ever achieve tolerances consistently on par with CNC machines because of the thermal nature of the printing process. Typically, 3D printers melt material from one form (e.g., filament, powder) and reconstitute it as another (the final shape). This means rapid heating and cooling, and therefore the possibility of warpage (among other potential microstructural impacts). In contrast, machining takes a hard part and simply chips away at it. All the while, the coordinates of the main work piece don't materially change — in shape or temperature.

Excels with Bulkier Shapes

3Diligent Industrial Machining, 3Diligent Machining.The second area where CNC Machining outperforms 3D Printing is in bulkier designs. Quite simply, CNC machines are capable of processing a wide variety of stock materials that come in standard shapes (e.g., block, sheet, rod). CNC machines can simply chip away from these shapes and provide you a solid part in short order. 3D printers, by their very nature, additively construct parts. At their very fastest, you're laying down one thin layer of material on top of another. At their slowest, the 3D Printer is basically etching the part geometry one voxel at a time.

To use an analogy, imagine you're tasked with creating a black circle for your niece's grade school art project. You're given some white paper, some black paper, a black pen, and some scissors.  What approach would you take?  Sure, you could grab the pen, draw a circle, and start filling in the blank.  But you could alternatively just grab those scissors and cut your circle out. You'd finish faster. And to the earlier comment, you'd be assured a degree of consistency that might not come if there were slight variances in the way you precisely filled in the circle shape.

In brief — big, blocky shapes do not print fast, but they tend to cut quickly. Additive would better shine on those designs where you'd pick the pen instead of the scissors.

Gives Consistent Material Properties

The next area where CNC outperforms 3D printers is in delivering reliably consistent material properties. To extend our grade school crafts analogy a step further, you may end up with a perfectly black circle if you precisely filled it in with your pen. However, there's also the possibility that the ink didn't flow quite right at a given moment, or you missed a spot ever so slightly because you had a hiccup. In contrast, if you cut the corners off of a piece of paper that you already can see is black, there's not much guess work.

With 3D Printers, you are oftentimes melting material on the fly. Sometimes you're setting a shape with a binding agent and curing that part's material properties in a secondary step — there are a few other ways as well. However, the main takeaway is that additive manufacturing typically establishes the material characteristics of the part on the fly as you reconstitute the matter in the build chamber. In contrast, with machining, you are simply chipping away from a forged piece of material billet. The material properties of that raw stock are already checked and confirmed.

All of this is not to suggest that 3D printers cannot deliver production parts that can meet and exceed the needs of many real-world applications. In fact, 3D printed parts consistently deliver material properties on par with or superior to cast parts, and you likely know that castings are literally EVERYWHERE. But it is to say that there are variables in play with 3D Printing (and casting) that don't exist to the same extent with CNC Machining. Microstructural features (like porosity and grain orientation) matter much more, especially as it relates to parts that experience high cycle fatigue. You may want to consider post-process solutions like Hot Isostatic Pressing.

Offers a Better Material Selection

3Diligent Water JettingA fourth way in which CNC Machining still beats 3D Printing is in material selection. It should be noted that 3D Printing is making tremendous strides in this area — and in fact certain materials that cannot be manufactured with any other process are now becoming available to 3D printers. Things like custom alloy powders are being developed just for the powder bed fusion 3D Printing process, for instance, that outperform conventional stock casting or CNC materials. With that being said, machining still currently offers a much wider variety of material options than 3D Printing. Materials like brass, for instance, are machinable and not generally available to the world of Additive Manufacturing. The same holds true in the polymer world. Whereas polyethylene, polypropylene, and acetal (Delrin) are viable options for a capable machinist, printing in those materials is still not heavily commercialized. To the extent that those materials are available in market, it is on a relatively niche basis for specific machines.  The tradeoffs of different 3D Printing processes is a discussion for a different day though.

So Is CNC Machining Better Than 3D Printing?

In truth, anybody who tells you machining or 3D Printing is "better" is just offering their own opinion, based on their own applications. But suffice it to say, CNC Machining does currently outperform 3D Printing on a number of dimensions. From delivering tight tolerances right off of the machine, to delivering bulky shapes faster and cheaper, to providing more reliable material properties, to offering a broader range of materials: CNC Machining remains an incredibly useful technology that is driving Industry 4.0 forward.

Takeaways From Our Discussion at Atlantic Design and Manufacturing: 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

I had the pleasure of participating in the 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal session and its panel discussion at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing show this past Wednesday at the Javits Center in New York City. The discussion covered a wide range of metal 3D Printing topics, with a few specific discussions regarding design considerations, overall cost, and post-process requirements. For those of you who couldn't make it to the discussion, we will share a few of those thoughts here.

Cullen Speaking at 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

Design for Metal 3D Printing

Additive design became a topic of increasing interest as 3D Printing broke away from strictly prototyping uses and into a manufacturing technology for functional applications such as tooling, spare parts, and production parts. I think a primary takeaway from that panel was the consensus that designs should begin with a particular machine and material combination in mind — as well as the broad concepts of additive to achieve an optimized part.

Practically speaking, every process undergoes its additive step and post-processing requirements in slightly different ways. Hence, understanding and incorporating those key considerations is particularly relevant to developing a good product. This can be challenging and may often require an expert's support. The session highlighted some exciting advances in topological optimization and generative design software, which can help you take full advantage of a 3D printers' capabilities. With that being said, there was also consensus that, currently, no software could deliver ready-made parts that were suitable to go straight to the printer. A degree of expert interaction with the designs was warranted.

Metal Additive and Costs

Obviously, metal 3D Printing is generally expensive and justifiably so. The leading technology in the metal additive space, powder bed fusion (PBF), is quite costly due to the requirement for highly refined powder and expensive underlying lasers with extraordinarily high optical requirements. However, an advancement of competing technologies in recent years has brought competition to PBF.

Metal binder jetting and extrusion technologies leverage less refined powders to deliver more cost-effective parts for certain geometries. These powders utilize sintering furnaces that, on the whole, lower costs compared to high-power lasers. A final group of additive processes scraps both furnaces and lasers altogether: sheet lamination, cold spray, and metal stirring. These technologies, though not as developed, potentially open the door to cost savings as well. There are also different hybrid solutions that can take rougher outputs from an additive process and achieve a degree of post-processing on the fly.

Cullen Speaking at 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

Post-Processing Requirements

3D Printing is famously known for requiring a significant amount of post-processing, tied in part to laser powder bed fusion; but it's not unreasonable to say that post-processing requirements are prevalent across the metal 3D Printing industry. The big takeaway from this portion of the discussion was that designing for your particular process can be extraordinarily valuable in eliminating post-processing costs. If your design does not account for a particular additive process, then it will likely require the removal of support structures. Similarly, things like trapped powder can wreak havoc on a finishing station; avoidable with appropriate "design for manufacturing" thinking ahead of time.

So if you couldn't make it to the show or join us at the panel discussion, I hope it was helpful hearing some of the key inputs to how 3D Printing is going heavy metal. If you have other questions, don't hesitate to reach out, look around our site here, or leave comments in the section below.

-Cullen Hilkene, CEO

3Diligent at Javits Center Speaking Session: 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal

 

Today at 2:00 P.M. Eastern, our CEO Cullen Hilkene will be speaking at the Javits Center‘s 3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal panel. Among the topics included in the overall 3D Printing session will be how it is:

Highlighting this pervasive topic in medical manufacturing and beyond so you can walk away prepared for the changes ahead. You’ll find it all, including design software, hardware, services, post-printing manufacturing solutions, and more.

Our panel discussion, entitled “3D Printing Goes Heavy Metal” will explore:

Which materials hold the most promise while considering case studies from industries that are leading the adoption of metal printing.

Swing by if you are in New York, we hope you’ll come join the conversation and sync with us!

 

Vlog Series: 3Diligent Hot Takes on 3D Printing in Architecture and Construction

 

With this vlog installment we will examine 3D Printing in the architecture and construction industries. We ourselves saw the viability of this application in our collaboration with Walters and Wolf on the new look of the Rainier Square Tower, but that is just one sector that is benefiting from 3D Printing technology. The three main areas where 3D Printing is making big strides in the architecture and the construction industries are:

1. Creating Custom Elements

2. Constructing New Edifices

3. Producing Tangible Architectural Models

 

Keep an eye out for our follow up blog and future videos!

 

Additives’s Impact on Manufacturing Pt. 1: How 3D Printing Is Changing Manufacturing Today

Over the last decade, 3D Printing has garnered many headlines. Whether it's the hype around consumer 3D Printing or the massive impact on the industrial community, a substantial amount of ink has been dedicated to the technology. 3D Printing changes manufacturing through the way we design, make production parts, and support products in the aftermarket. In this blog post, in conjunction with CMTC and the NIST MEP Network, we will spell out a variety of ways that additive is changing manufacturing today. Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming post where we will discuss how additive stands to further change manufacturing in the future.

3D Printing Changes How Fast Products Get to Market

A direct result of 3D Printing's impact on design processes is the rate at which new products can be developed. Instead of having to wait for tooling for a given design, designers can simply print onsite or send a CAD file to a service bureau and get parts in hours or days. Previously, waiting for weeks, months, or even years was the norm. This has a comprehensive effect on the overall product development life cycle. Decisions on final part designs can be reached much faster because the amount of time required for effective design is compressed.

3D Printing Changes How Effectively We Design

3D Printing grew up as a prototyping technology. It offered a faster way to go from an idea to a tangible model than previously imaginable.  By allowing for designs to be drafted in a computer program and then printed once a viable design is reached, the time to market for new designs was condensed massively - sometimes by an order of magnitude.  In conjunction with this speed, 3D printing has also helped better products come to market.  By allowing for fast iteration on tangible designs, design flaws and bad ergonomics that might have taken months (and a lot of additional investment in tooling) to identify can be spotted sooner, and fixes incorporated into the design.  As a result, the general quality of parts is improved by designers’ ability to explore more designs in a shorter period of time, arriving at a better final design.

3D Printing Changes the Way We Make Tools

A lot of attention has been focused on how 3D Printing helps us create end-use parts through prototyping. Now, increased attention has been paid to how 3D printers are fabricating actual end-use parts for select applications. However, one of the first uses outside of prototyping was tool creation. Around a decade ago, the range of polymers available for 3D Printing expanded significantly. This happened in conjunction with the emergence of extrusion and powder bed 3D Printing systems, which processed true thermoplastics rather than thermoset resins like vat photopolymerization (a.k.a. SLA) machines.

Once engineering thermoplastics like ABS, polycarbonate, and polyetherimide became available, managers and engineers began considering if 3D Printing could solve unique practical challenges that they encountered on a daily basis. These shop floor applications extended well beyond fit or form models, such as creating custom jigs, fixtures, or end arm effectors to allow for better handling of items. 3D printers are capable of economically fabricating these often unique geometries that would never be suitable for mass production. In this way, 3D Printing changed how manufacturing supports people on the shop floor as well as the ones designing and fabricating end use parts.

3D Printing Changes the Way We Fix Things

Another way that 3D Printing changes manufacturing today is in how we fix things. 3D Printing allows for on-demand fabrication of replacement parts. Naturally, this is not always necessary. Sometimes a replacement part is readily available at Lowe's, Home Depot, Grainger or McMaster-Carr, to name a few. But sometimes those parts are difficult to come by, especially for products out of production. If your collector car from the 1950s breaks down, it can sometimes make sense to print replacement parts rather than attempt to hunt them down in the global marketplace.

This is even more pronounced if a 50-year-old part breaks down on your assembly line and the holdup is costing revenue every minute. Or perhaps you are in a forward-deployed location and your aircraft cannot fly without printing a replacement part straight away. In any of these circumstances, the ability to 3D print stopgap solutions is significant, and with the rapid advancement we have experienced in printing quality, these “short-term solutions” may soon become “long-term” ones.

Summary: Additive is Changing Manufacturing in Many Ways and More is to Come

As we explained in this post, additive manufacturing has fundamentally changed the way we manufacture things. From design to tooling to replacement parts, additive manufacturing is a game changer. And its impact is just beginning to be felt, as the speed and capability of machines has just passed a tipping point.  You may note that we hardly touched the topic of actual production parts, which we view as still just breaching the tip of the iceberg at the moment, but that’s soon to change. Read our next blog post when we talk about how additive manufacturing will come to further impact manufacturing in the years to come.

Walters & Wolf Engages 3Diligent to Manufacture Exterior Wall Components That Contribute to Unique Look of Seattle’s Upcoming Rainier Square Tower

3Diligent Worked with Walters & Wolf from Prototype Through Production; Provided 3D Printing of 140 Unique Aluminum Nodes in Varying Dimensions

El Segundo, Calif. – March 6, 20193Diligent announced today that Walters & Wolf, a commercial cladding company, engaged 3Diligent to manufacture 140 unique exterior curtain wall nodes that Walters & Wolf designed to deliver the iconic exterior look and feel of the upcoming Rainier Square Tower in Seattle.

Expected to be finished in 2020, the new Rainier Square Tower will become Seattle’s second-tallest building. The structure will be a 58-story tower with a unique sloping appearance. With a step back on each building floor, the cladding system for each floor will have a different angle and require complex geometries to fit together perfectly.

Walters & Wolf worked with 3Diligent from prototype through production to produce 140 unique nodes with varying dimensions up to nearly a cubic foot in size. As geometries changed throughout the building’s design, 3Diligent leveraged its deep metal 3D Printing expertise to ensure each unique geometry met Walters & Wolf’s exacting specifications.

“From an operations standpoint, we were impressed with 3Diligent’s consistency in delivery of highly accurate and complex parts in a timely fashion that was in sync with the production schedule we established early on,” said Tony Parker, Project Executive at Walters & Wolf.  “At the end of the day, 3Diligent upheld their end of the bargain – they simply did what they said they would do.”

3D Printing of Challenging Geometries

NBBJ rendering by Atchain

Each piece of the curtain wall needed to be custom fabricated to meet the unique geometry of that section of the building. Walters & Wolf determined the best approach would be to create v-shaped nodes that ranged in size that would bring together square cut parts of the curtain wall. After experimenting with a variety of manufacturing processes and having some vendors say they couldn’t complete the work, Walters & Wolf turned to 3Diligent.

3Diligent presented two manufacturing processes – investment casting and 3D Printing - and delivered first articles from the different processes. These were assembled into curtain wall units and sent for performance mock-up testing. After testing, Walters & Wolf selected 3D Printing as their preferred path forward.

“We were honored when Walters & Wolf engaged 3Diligent as its manufacturing partner for this project,” said Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent. “Both the tower and these specific parts represent the sort of innovation that 3Diligent strives to enable every day.  It was great collaborating with Walters & Wolf on such a compelling project and look forward to seeing the completed tower in 2020!”

To download the full case study highlighting Walters & Wolf’s work with 3Diligent, visit this case study's page.

About 3Diligent

3Diligent is an innovative digital manufacturing services provider offering CAD/CAM-based fabrication services such as 3D Printing, CNC machining, casting, and injection molding.  3Diligent launched in 2014 to provide businesses seeking a more convenient and efficient way to utilize cutting edge digital manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing.  3Diligent uses the right combination of in-house engineering expertise and data science-driven algorithms to assess, price, and fulfill customer requests with its global manufacturing network.  3Diligent counts companies from Fortune 500 enterprises to startups among its customers.

For more information on 3Diligent and its capabilities, visit https://www.3diligent.com.

2019: 3D Printing Trends

It's that special time of year when we start taking stock of what happened in the past year and begin looking ahead to what 3D Printing trends may likely happen in the future. With that, let’s look ahead to 2019 in the world of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing...

Production 3D Printing Headlines

The first thing that we think 2019 will be known for in the additive industry are  plastic production 3D Printing headlines.  Leading the way in "buzziness" are global multinational enterprise HP and Silicon Valley-funded Carbon, which garnered many headlines for their efforts introducing faster next-gen polymer printers. This in turn raised the efforts already underway by incumbent polymer 3D Printing OEMs (or lit a fire under them, depending on your perspective), driving companies like 3D Systems and Envisiontec to emphasize their abilities when it comes to production.

 

Metal Extrusion Heats Up

The second topic that we expect to find in 2019 is a continued heating up of the Metal Extrusion 3D Printing market. In 2018, there was a lot of legal infighting between leaders in the space, which likely slowed market penetration by these technologies. We expect these technologies to gain increased adoption in 2019.  While much of the air about emerging metal 3D Printing technologies is consumed by binder jetting, we still expect these technologies to gain traction, especially around tooling and prototyping work.

An Expanding Universe of Metal Technologies

The third focal point for 2019 is the continued proliferation of technologies in the metal 3D Printing market, which you can read about in-depth in our 2019 State of Metal 3D Printing Report. The fundamental issue at hand is that metal printing is still lacking on various levels as it relates to delivering production parts, particularly speed and cost.  Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) technologies have garnered many headlines in recent years, particularly with programs in the aerospace and medical sectors. We can point to GE's successes, both with fuel injection nozzles and sensor housings, as great reference points that reflect the broader trend within the aerospace industry.  We can also point to successes in the medical industry around implants, particularly in Europe and other overseas markets. These 3D Printing trends within powder bed will continue to emerge, although the technology remains too pricey to displace traditional technologies for all but the most complex and/or low volume metal parts in the market. With that in mind, expect further advancements in the speed of powder bed fusion but also the continued emergence of new metal printing technologies.  These emerging metal technologies are not as likely to battle powder bed fusion head on for highly complex and precise geometries so much as they attempt to steal market share from casting and metal injection molding technologies.  

 

Continued Material Expansion

3d printing materials, additive manufacturing materials, additive manufacturing material library, 3d printing material library

The fifth and final focal point for 2019 we would want to highlight is the continued expansion of material options. As we mentioned, production is the buzzword in the additive manufacturing industry right now. Obviously, the material science underlying some new resins have facilitated the arrival of production polymer applications for Carbon and the Futurecraft shoes we mentioned earlier. We expect that continued exploration of thermoset resin and thermoplastics will be pushed by players in the polymer market to open doors to specific market niches. With that being said, the opportunity seems even more rich within the metals market for custom alloys.  Given the relative expense and weight of plastic parts to metal ones, the benefits of utilizing additive to eliminate weight and improve performance for metal 3D Printing are significant.  Taken a step further, the stresses inherent in printing metal relative to plastic are greater.  As a result, the opportunity to explore new alloys better suited to this process and/or the opportunity to introduce new metals into the additive universe through new processes is great.  We anticipate 2019 heralding the meaningful arrival of some new alloys in market.

Honorable Mention: Design Software

A final area that we see prominently impacting the additive manufacturing industry in 2019 is advancement in 3D Printing-related software, especially generative design and simulation.

Generative design, as you may be aware, is technology that allows for designers to enter design parameters, and then the software algorithmically develops designs based on those parameters.  Empowered by 3D Printing, these software packages can explore geometries that are fundamentally more complex and organic than conventional design would typically create.  In theory, such designs allow for higher levels of performance and reductions in material usage.  In practice, industry is still a little ways away from such software making a noticeable impact on the broader scene.  More on this in a future blog post.

Another 3D Printing trend that also stands to positively impact advancement of additive in 2019 is simulation software.  A close cousin of generative design, simulation software allows for companies to identify optimal performance characteristics in parts, but perhaps more importantly for the 3D Printing industry, identify whether a part will be printable on a first pass.  As this technology evolves, the opportunity for additive to continue its takeoff grows, making the technology and its benefits more accessible to designers who don't have a career's worth of experience designing parts for additive manufacturing.

It promises to be an exciting and eventful 2019 in the world of 3D Printing.  We look forward to sharing it with you!