The manufacturing industry has recently undergone large-scale change with the integration of 3D printing.
Additive technology has revolutionised the way the sector operates, expanding the realm of possibilities for product creation.
More companies are employing the use of this modern and highly adaptable technology, but there are still some components which are holding it back from competing with CNC operations.
SmarTech Analysis reported that the 3D printing revenue reached $10.6 billion in 2021.
SmarTech and Lux Research groups both reported that by the year 2030, the industry will be worth over $50 billion. Prototypes, moulds and tooling are expected to be the greatest areas of growth.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is an additive technology, used to manufacture parts by stacking and fusing layers of material. This process is done via a digital file and requires minimal start-up costs. How these products are made starkly differs from subtractive or formative manufacturing techniques.
Initially used for small-scale prototypes in the 1980s, the possibilities of 3D printing have now expanded within the manufacturing industry.
3D tech is known to be low-cost, fast, adaptable and capable of creating geometrically complex parts. The list of materials that machines are able to process are rapidly increasing, expanding the realm of opportunity for manufacturers.
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Manufacturing possibilities in 2022
Despite Australia taking longer to adopt 3D technology than its Western counterparts, it has been relatively efficient at integrating 3D printing into the manufacturing sector.
In 2021, 65 percent of advanced manufacturing and mobility companies surveyed by EY used additive manufacturing.
The technology, present in many Australian classrooms, can be used to make parts for cars that are out of production or even build houses. The Danish company COBOD, which aims to print buildings with ethical materials, has recently expanded its reach to Australia and is looking to change the conventional ways buildings are constructed.
A 3D Printing Trend Report published by Hubs, an online manufacturing platform, reported the 3D printing market will reach $44.5 billion, up 24 per cent in the next four years.
The report found that 68 per cent of engineers were using 3D printing more, setting the precedent for expansion. The speed, price and complexity of the products were considered to be the largest drawcards.
Other materials such as metal are also expected to become normalised in the process. The diversity of materials that 3D printers can utilise make it more adaptable than other forms of manufacturing. Innovation in this space has slowed due to the pandemic but is expected to be an area of substantial growth.
“New materials and material composites, lower pricing and mature post-processing options will also make it more viable to integrate 3D printing into production cycles,” said Filemon Schöffer, co-founder and CCO of Hubs.
The pandemic also highlighted the adaptability of the technology, proving that 3D printing can adjust supply chains quickly and effectively. A good example of this is 3D printers being used to create PPE masks during the pandemic. This process required minimal labour and was able to fill a gap conventional methods of production were not able to.
3D printing can create products that have previously been impossible. Creating complex geometric shapes quickly is what separates this methodology and will propel its use and expand its reach within the manufacturing industry.
“Advanced material composites, combined with the ability to produce highly complex geometries, will open up new manufacturing possibilities that have been impossible to unlock with traditional technologies,” Filemon Schöffer said.
The Hubs report suggests that while 3D printing will be used for prototypes, its use will extend beyond to contribute further to the manufacturing industry.
They estimate that “high-performance 3D printing materials development and qualification, such as refractory metals, ceramics, high-temperature polymers and composites,” will be a growth area.
The industry of printing is expected to increase in popularity due to minimal waste and its sustainability factors, which will drive consumer consumption.
Consumers are increasingly looking to create personalised products, be it a prosthetic, an engine part or a personalised cabinet. 3D printing is creating a space where such items are becoming more accessible and will continue to have a great impact on the sector.
3D printing and CNC machines
CNC manufacturing and 3D printing have a large crossover. This begs the question of what method is better and if 3D printing will take over traditional production processes.
The first thing of note is that 3D printing and CNC operations employ opposite techniques. One is additive, and the other is a subtractive method. Because of this, each process is useful for different things.
CNC production is mostly used for metal products and is cost-effective when over 100 products are made. CNC production is known to have high accuracy rates and is the better option for simple geometric products. It does however have limitations in regards to complex geometric shapes, and it is more labour-intensive and time-consuming than 3D printing. It is important to note that CNC production is not redundant due to new technology and will continue to be used for many years to come.
3D printing is an expansion of the traditional means of production. It is beneficial due to the low start-up and labour costs, fast turnaround time and ability to create complex and light geometric products. One of its advantages is the ability to quickly adapt to changes with a turnover time as short as 24 hours.
While commonly making products from plastic, 3D printing can also print metals such as aluminium and stainless steel, and use bio-materials such as sand. The list of viable materials for 3D printing is increasing and is a great way to produce less than 100 products. Once it exceeds this number, it is best to employ CNC services for accuracy and production costs.
While 3D printing is evolving, there is currently a post-production process of sanding or shaping which requires labour. Despite this, the minimal material waste is a large draw card of this production style.
3D printing has room to grow in terms of accuracy and consistency in products and requires regulation of industry standards.
Both methodologies are useful in different scenarios. However, it can be expected that as 3D technology advances, it will account for a higher percentage of manufacturing production.
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