3D printing has come a long way. In 2020, we’re expecting significant developments with the aerospace industry thanks to Relativity Space’s huge 3D printer, but what about other industries? Let’s take a look at how 3D printing is changing four different sectors.

Footwear

Commonly used in orthotics exams, 3D technology is set to become a staple in shoe design. Albert, a computer vision-enhanced foot scanner from Aetrex Worldwide, is already being used to create blueprints for customers before printing out customised orthotics. However, a number of the world’s leading footwear brands are now entering the 3D market, including Adidas and New Balance. Adidas’ Futurecraft 4D shoe was made using a process developed by Carbon, while New Balance is using a springy shoe base printed by Formlabs.



Cars

In recent years, car manufacturers have realised that 3D printing can unlock incredible potential within their production processes. Not only is it helping to speed up and refine the prototyping stage, but it could be used to make vehicles more fuel-efficient and provide customers with the digital means to design custom cars. Audi has already launched its own 3D printing centre in Ingolstadt, and Volkswagen has plans to integrate the world’s most advanced 3D printing technology, HP Metal Jet, into its long-term design strategy.

Dentistry

Thanks to its far-reaching applications, the dental 3D printing market is expected to reach $930m by 2025. As well as dental aligners, 3D printing is expected to facilitate the mass production of crowns, bridges, retainers, dentures, splints, and so much more. However, 3D printers are also bringing manufacturing directly to the clinic, improving turnaround times for patients and increasing accuracy by customising products based on a patient’s anatomy.



Jewellery

Thanks to its capacity for intricate detailing, 3D printing has transformed the jewellery industry. Not only can customers design their rings and pieces from scratch, but they can see them come to life. We can expect 3D printing to take the jewellery industry by storm in the next few years, not only because of the benefits it offers customers, but because it’s also much more sustainable, only using the material that’s required and keeping excess waste to a minimum.

New patents and the future for 3D printing

Image courtesy TU Graz

TU Graz’s head of the Institute of Production Engineering, Franz Haas, has recently applied for a patent for new 3D printing technology known as Selective LED-based melting (SLEDM). Selective LED-based melting (SLEDM) is the process by which powerful sources of LED light melt metal powder in a targeted fashion. The technique is similar to electron beam melting (EBM) and selective laser melting (SLM), which involves the fusion of metal powder through an electron or laser beam and builds up layer upon layer of metal to create a component. SLEDM, however, solves the issue of the slow processes of producing large volumes of parts and manual post-processing.

Reduced production time

Unlike the EBM or SLM processes, the Selective LED-based melting technique utilises a powerful LED beam to melt the powder. The LEDs used in this technique are designed with a complicated system of lenses in which the LED’s diameter could be changed easily between 20 mm and 0.05 mm while the metal powder melts. This ensures that larger volumes of material powder production times are reduced.

Reworking eliminated

The SLEDM technology is used in conjunction with a brand new, unique production plant that is designed to build the component from top to bottom. The metal component is therefore exposed, and less powder is required. Post-processing, such as the removal of supporting structures and the smoothing of rough surfaces, can also be completed during the process of printing to save time.



Practical application

The SLEDM process is currently being considered for use at the Medical University of Graz to create bioresorbable metal implants for fractured bones. Researchers also hope to use the technology to develop sustainable battery components and bipolar fuel cell plates. Franz Haas said, “We want to make additive manufacturing using SLEDM economically viable for e-mobility and position SLEDM in this field of research at an early stage.”

3d printer image by Lutz Peter from Pixabay

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