While 3-D printing has been around for decades, it has been largely in the area of hobby and designers to produce one-off prototypes. And print objects with something other than plastic, in particular metal has been expensive and painfully slow.
But now it has become cheap and easy enough to be a potentially useful way the production of parts. If widely adopted, it could change the way we mass produce many products.
3-D Metal Printing
- BreakthroughNow printers can make metal objects quickly and cheaply.
- Why It MattersThe ability to make large and complex metal objects on demand could transform manufacturing.
- Key PlayersMarkforged, Desktop Metal, GE
In the short term, manufacturers will not need to maintain large inventories, they can just print an object, such as a replacement for an aging car, when someone needs it.
In the longer term, large factories that mass produce a limited number of parts are replaced with less makes a bigger selection, adapt to changing customer needs.
The technology can create lighter, stronger parts and complex shapes that are not possible with conventional metal fabrication. It can also provide more precise control of the microstructure of metals. 2017 researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they had developed a 3-D printing method to manufacture stainless steel parts are twice as strong as traditionally done themselves.
Also in 2017 3-D printing Markforged, a small starting base in Boston, released the first 3-D metal printers for under $ 100,000.
Another startup Boston, Desktop Metal, began sending its first metal prototyping machines in December 2017. It plans to start selling more machines for production, which is 100 times faster than the older metal printing methods.
Printing of metal parts is also easier. Metal Desktop now offers software that generates design ready for 3D printing. Users tell software specifications of the subject they want to print, and the software provides a data model suitable for printing.
GE, which has long been a proponent of using 3-D printing in their products aviation (see “”10 cutting-edge technology in 2013: additive manufacturing””), a test version of its new metal printer that is fast enough to make the parts. The company plans to start selling printers 2018. -Erin Winick