There’s good news for innovators who have chosen 3D printing as their mode of production. Forbes’ State of Printing 2019 reports that, “manufacturers are increasing their reliance on 3D printing as part of their broader manufacturing strategies, with production use up to 51% of all respondents from 38.7% in 2018.”
In fact, 3D manufacturing has become integral to a wide range of business applications, from the Team Penske racing crew, who uses 3D technology to reduce the time between concept and realization of new ideas, to charitable organizations such as the Hand Foundation, which offers 3D-printed prosthetics to those who need it most. Additive manufacturing can be found in the fields of aerospace, dentistry, construction, food processing, instrument building, and much more.
The large-scale adoption of 3D technologies has translated to an increased need for a variety of materials to meet the diverse needs of such a broad range of industries. The automotive, oil and gas, and industrial goods sectors, for example, have raised the demand for composite materials in the manufacturing of parts. In fact, a SmarTech Analysis report estimates that composite 3D printing will grow into a nearly $10 billion business within the next decade.
Businesses either entering or who have been engaged with additive manufacturing are part of a burgeoning market of material design where choices can be increasingly tailored to the specifics of product design. As additive manufacturing giant DSM notes, they offer, “a range of 3D printing materials, from strong and rigid, like Somos EvoLVe 128, to soft and flexible, materials for high temperature and harsh conditions, like Somos PerFORM, to biocompatible, like Somos BioClear,” They also offer, “a dedicated team of application specialists to help fast track material development for customers’ specific applications.”
In the past, many of the problems associated with 3D technology were largely based on material choices that didn’t meet the demands of the finished product. But it is clear that today’s new materials not only meet more specific functional application needs, but can also be uniquely designed for the project at hand. The question for clients then is not how to adapt design to materials but how to pick the most suitable materials for their design.
How to Choose Your Materials
The new world of 3D materials offers customers the flexibility to dream of possibilities and to match those dreams to materials that bring the concept to fruition. Ceramic 3D printing, for example, is being used to manufacture intricate pottery designs, but has also been adopted by the military to create composite body armor. New auxetic metamaterials have been designed for hip implants that actually expand under pressure, making it more likely that the implant will last. So, perhaps the time has come to start thinking about the best materials for your design rather than hoping for the best from what you’ve always used. If you’re thinking of making a change, here are some things to keep in mind.
Before production begins, you will want to consider the end use of the product and what qualities will make it last, as well as what will best match the intended use. Some materials will offer flexibility while others are more rigid. The expected lifespan of the product can also have an impact as an investment in more composite materials may offer more long-term durability.
For products that are to be mass produced, ease of replicability is worth taking into account. Some materials hold detailed features better than others, thus offering a more consistent product. There are even special materials for shaping molds for large-scale production that leave essentially no residue to be cleaned out in post production.
Finally, you will want to keep in mind that some products will have very specific requirements, such as with medical and dental applications, where not only do performance and durability standards come under consideration, but the products may also need to meet certification standards. Some materials, for example, maintain sterility better than others and are thus more suitable for such uses.
As you consider the end application of your product, you will also want to account for the way the product functions and what demands that creates. Functional demands will require particular material choices to stand up to stresses the product is under. Some parts will operate under extreme thermal demands, such as engine or machine parts, and materials that can withstand extremes of heat or cold need to be of primary concern.
Other products will require water resistance, and you will find a range of materials that create more waterproof finishes. For frequent use products, you’ll want to explore materials that stand up to wear and tear. While for reusable parts, you may want to choose a material that is easily cleanable.
A last area of consideration as you choose materials is the impact of post production. Choosing the right material may save you time in the final stages of manufacturing or may even negate the need for some post-production steps.
With a growing range of colored materials, for example, post-production painting is increasingly becoming unnecessary. Even if paint is necessary, choosing the right material can ensure that paint bonds better and lasts longer. There are even a number of translucent materials now available for products that require light emission.
Texture, too, can become part of the equation as some materials produce smoother finishes, while there are specialized materials designed for creating particle image velocimetry textures used in aerospace design research.
Making Materials for Our Future
Additive manufacturing has entered the most important aspects of our lives. Recently, a San Francisco-based 3D-printing startup, Apis Cor, showed it could 3D-print concrete walls for a small house in less than 24 hours. Aerospace uses 3D technology to explore groundbreaking innovation, via reducing commercial airplane travel emissions, constructing in space, and even bio printing in space.
But innovation places an exacting demand on the material requirements of 3D production, a demand that is being met by a whole new world of material production. Join that world for your next design project by asking what specific needs your printing materials must meet and seeking the best material to suit your product design.
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