What’s So Great About 3D Printing?

A Disruptive Technology

3D printing is disruptive in several ways. First, it will compete with and partially replace several different industrial processes. Next, it will allow the creation of completely new products — and completely new tools for creating new products. But mostly, 3-D printing (additive manufacturing) is disruptive because it is a wide-open field.

At this point in time, it is limited only by what the human mind can envision and put into practise — like the aircraft industry just before WWI, rock and roll music in the late 1950s to early 1960s, the computer industry in the mid 1970s, or the internet in the early 1990s. It is on the cusp of revolution.

One of the more exciting and rapidly growing areas of 3D printing is the printing of metal objects and machine parts. Several different approaches to metal 3D printing have been devised — and we haven’t seen anything yet!

First, look at metal 3D printing using laser sintering of metallic powders:

Before the printing starts, the powdered materials must be dispersed above the build platform in a thin layer. The build platform is always found inside the SLS machine.

The next step will now be to direct a laser down to the platform. The laser normally is controlled by a computer and therefore through the computer the designer can easily determine what will be fabricated using the laser. When the laser is directed to the platform, it begins tracing cross-sections of the designed digital object onto the powdered material.

The laser’s main purpose is to heat the powder just below its melting point fusing the tiny particles together forming a solid object. Immediately the first layer is created, the platform of the Selective Laser Sintering machine drops by about 0.1mm to expose a new layer of the powdered material for another cross-section of the object to be traced and fused together by the laser.

This process repeats itself over and over again until the entire object has been fabricated. The object will then be allowed some time to properly cool off before being removed from the SLS machine.
__ http://3dprinthq.com/how-does-selective-laser-sintering-work/

Advanced metal powders from NanoSteel

Some of the large companies using metal powder techniques to print metal in 3D include GE, Ford, Audi, Siemens, and several other automotive, energy, aerospace, and defence industry giants.

New applications in the aerospace, oil & gas, medical, and dental sectors will increase demand for powered materials exponentially. In this regard, SmarTech believes that GE’s recent $50 million dollar investment in it’s Auburn, Alabama plant to additively manufacture LEAP engine fuel nozzles is a prelude to larger investments in metal powder AM equipment by many large manufacturers that will soon require powdered materials for ‘round the clock production. __ http://3dprinting.com/reports/additive-manufacturing-opportunities-in-the-metal-powders-industry-a-10-year-market-forecast/

At this link you can read about several different metal printing processes, including laser sintering, molten metal casting in 3-D printed molds, jet printers that use molten metal as “ink,” and more fascinating and original approaches to printing metal.

An upcoming industrial expo in Frankfurt (17 – 20 November 2015), will highlight some of the latest industrial 3D printing machines for metal.

Trumpf, the German laser manufacturer that employs in excess of 10,000, is set to launch new metal additive manufacturing machinery at formnext. The company will showcase machines that use powdered metal laser metal fusion (LMF) technology -popular with manufacturers such as Concept Laser, EOS, 3D Systems and SLM Solutions – as well as a machine that uses laser metal deposition (LMD) technology used by the likes of DM3D.

… The modular MetalFAB1 system uses metal powder bed fusion technology and has a broad range of new features like fully automated build plate and product handling, multiple full field lasers, continuous in-process calibration and integrated heat treatment. Additive Industries promises an unrivalled productivity, reproducibility and flexibility.

… This time last year the British engineering company announced the EVO Project, a metal additive manufacturing machine designed specifically for production manufacturing. It is the first additive manufacturing system designed and engineered in-house and reflects 40 years of experience in supplying high-quality equipment to demanding global manufacturing businesses. At formnext Renishaw will unveil the fruits of a year-long labour.

__ More at http://www.tctmagazine.com/tct-show-3D-printing-exhibition/preview-formnext-powered-by-tct/

One of the more exciting approaches to 3D metal printing is the new Xjet approach, which uses “liquid metal” ink, promising to cut the price and size of metal 3D printing radically. Note that “liquid metal” is not the same thing as “molten metal” in this context. It consists of metallic nanoparticles suspended in a special liquid solution.

Xjet is developing a proprietary inkjet printing technology for liquid metal that could make the large scale manufacturing of custom metal parts cheaper and more efficient than ever before, driving 3D metal printing into the mainstream. While current metal 3D printing technology relies on prohibitively expensive DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering), Xjet’s patented Nano Metal Jetting technology uses nanoparticles to create special liquid metals that can 3D print one-of-a-kind metal parts on the fly whilst introducing a new level of throughput and speed, unequaled accuracy and surface finish, ​and unmatched simplicity and saftey of operation.

… According to Danai, Xjet’s inket printing technology for liquid metals allows manufacturers to skip the mold stage altogether, saving them huge amounts of time and money, and even allowing them to create unique, one of a kind metal parts on the fly. “All the specifications are made in the software, and when it’s time to print, our nano-based metals are created according to those specifications.”

… 3D printing with liquid metals opens up a range of possibilities for custom metal manufacturing. “We could print out a titanium knee on the spot for a patient, instead of making them wait weeks for a custom design,” said Danai by way of an example. He also said that large maker of sports cars has shown interest in developing unique add-ons for their high-end cars out of steel or aluminum rather than plastic.
__ http://www.3ders.org/articles/20151109-xjet-to-develop-worlds-first-direct-3d-metal-printing-jetting-system.html

The Xjet technology appears to offer several advantages over earlier metal printing technologies, besides price – size – speed advantages. It is also said to allow a much wider range of printed shapes than earlier approaches.

But this is just the beginning of the revolution, as we said earlier. Additive manufacturing (3D Printing) is moving far beyond its early limitations, from using plastic inks to now utilising inks of metal, glass, stone, bio-matrix, various types of gels, and living cells — for printing living tissues and organs.

Growing Array of 3D Printed Objects http://3dprint.com/53897/3d-print-home-car-organs/

Growing Array of 3D Printed Objects

3D printers are already being used in space at the ISS. It is likely that future space colonists will refuse to leave home without one — or several. The ability to print replacement parts and machines far from traditional suppliers makes this technology a must for all types of expeditions — including military expeditions and shipboard machine shops.

Now, if you can think an application through in enough detail, you can move it from idea to digital model to prototype to production in quick order. Even if the application is for something that has never been done.

The only limits are those in the minds of the thinker.


As Steven Berlin Johnson argues in his book “Future Perfect” (2012), the true origin of the Internet [innovation] does not lie in brilliant individuals, nor in private companies, nor in government funding. It lies in open-source, peer-to-peer networking. He says it is not even a bottom-up thing, since a bottom implies a top, and there is no top of the Internet [human innovation]. I agree, and this makes my point nicely. Technology evolves through the interactions of many ordinary people, rather than being handed down from the ivory towers of a few elite geniuses. __ Matt Ridley “Where Does Technology Innovation Come From?

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3 Responses to What’s So Great About 3D Printing?

  1. jccarlton says:

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    3D printing is riding the current fertile ground of cheap computer controls, motors and software, combined with advanced and forming technologies. We’ve haven’t seen anything yet. This is only the beginning.

  2. Bob Wallace says:

    I consider the Internet to be a gigantic, world-wide brain. God knows what that sort of connectivity can do.

  3. Erebus says:

    Laser sintering is legit. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it can be used with a huge variety of high-performance alloys — from nickel-based inconel, to useful titanium alloys like Ti-6Al-4V, to exotic metal matrix composites like graphene-iron. (PDF link.) Parts and prototypes fabricated via laser sintering tend to display much poorer mechanical properties than their traditionally-manufactured counterparts, but this may be a temporary phenomenon; as the technique and the technology mature, it’s possible that we may one day learn how to use laser sintering for microstructural engineering, which may result in mechanically-optimized materials, e.g. nacre-like nanostructured metals.
    ….In any case, laser sintering is clearly a great tool.

    I’m not sure about that Xjet method. It was tough to glean any details from those articles & Xjet’s website, but their patents are, at least, public. This seems to be the important one. Their invention really is inkjet-based, and it seems as though it could work. But the Xjet guys are talking about making steel — and that’s a complex and dirty process, and one which is almost never as simple as “sinter this powder.” (I once did some work on a steel alloy that first needed to be melted from powder, then homogenized at 1200°C for 24 hours in a hydrogen atmosphere, then needed to undergo thermomechanical treatment e.g. rolling, then cooling /w liquid nitrogen, and there were a few more steps after that.) I think it’s likely that their inkjet technique will result in low-quality, brittle steel that may be very useful for prototyping, but won’t see any practical use in automotive or aerospace applications.

    Unless their printed steel parts are reinforced with a matrix of carbon, SiC, or e-glass fibers. That would be really interesting, and would likely result in some high-performance/high-speed parts. This could be done via a laminate-style process, or by dispersing a network of fibers into the inkjet fluid itself.
    Now that I think about it, MMCs seem like the optimal use of this inkjet-based metal printing device, so I’m a bit surprised that they’re going with stainless steel. If I were Xjet, I would probably focus on something like Boralyn. (Aluminum/boron carbide cermet.) Boron carbide nanoparticles, evenly dispersed in a colloidal matrix of aluminum powder, with the help of their dispersants and carrier fluids; the aluminum matrix should be very easy to sinter, and the B4C nanoparticles would strengthen and harden the material throughout; post-sintering heat treatment would be simple, or entirely unnecessary.

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