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3D Printing Evolves to a Modern Manufacturing Solution

By David Baumgarten | Novastar Solutions | 2/21/2018
 

In its 30-plus year history, 3D printing hasn’t offered the scalability, repeatability, or economics (comparable cost per part) to be thought of as a sustainable manufacturing solution. But recent advancements in the 3D Printing industry make the case the technology is en route to disrupting manufacturing as we know it.

Speed and design freedom are two of the most important 3D printing differentiators when compared to legacy manufacturing (injection molding, CNC machining, etc.). Instead of waiting days or weeks for a prototype to be built, several designs can be created in a matter of hours, and then revised and printed again the next day. 3D printing frees the designer to make multiple parts within parts in a single build, reducing complexity, assembly costs and material waste.

For 3D Printing, 2017 was a year characterized by massive investments in R&D and infrastructure, rapid growth and adoption, and the development of a global community. And with major players and new entrants taking a collaborative approach to innovation, it appears that the “fourth industrial revolution” may not be so far away.

Challenges of Legacy 3D Printing Solutions
Because large-scale adoption of 3D printing as a manufacturing solution would cause industry-wide disruption, the benefits would have to be massive to penetrate the market. Until recently, this has not been the case.

Legacy 3D printing solutions haven’t measured up to more common manufacturing methods. From inconsistent part quality and limited material options to pricey costs per unit and material waste, there was much to be desired. That’s why 3D printing found a niche as a prototyping solution while being used for additive manufacturing in low volumes in a few specific industries. Establishing a true foothold in mass manufacturing required vast improvements in various aspects of the 3D printing process, and the community has responded.

A Strong Focus on Meeting End-User Needs
This past year, several major players made serious improvements to their technology to address end-user needs by introducing workflow innovations, new material capabilities, and efficiency improvements, resulting in more profitable economics.

Recent entrant HP’s 3D Multi Jet Fusion technology allows designers to build one part, or up to hundreds of smaller parts, in a single print (about 4-10 hours) with rapid cooling (another 4-10 hours). The unused powder is recaptured after parts are unpacked, and each subsequent build uses 80% recycled and only 20% virgin powder resulting in significant material savings.

HP’s newest solution—the 4210—was specifically designed with a focus on industrial manufacturing, providing hardware and firmware upgrades for existing Jet Fusion systems to improve overall efficiency and enable continuous operation, including a new processing station capable of handling significantly higher materials volumes. This presents an economic inflection point through increased productivity and an industry leading cost per part.

HP’s innovation provides users with the efficiency to mass-produce at the industry’s lowest cost-per-part and possesses the speed, quality, and scalability needed to accelerate manufacturing’s digital industrial revolution. In addition, the company recently added three new, high-reusability materials and plans to introduce color and metal printing to public markets this year.

While it’s clear that the big players are focused on making the right improvements, they know that it will take an ecosystem to enable full-scale adoption. That’s why they’ve put such an emphasis on partnership and open collaboration while pushing the boundaries of 3D printing.

Fostering a Community to Catalyze Innovation
Laying a foundation for the next industrial revolution, additive manufacturing demands successful collaboration amongst partners involved at every stage of the 3D printing process. In 2016, HP’s Open Platform Approach set the right tone by creating a program to certify partners for collaboration on materials innovation and applications, and providing them with access to HP’s Open Materials Lab.

By working together to reduce costs, facilitate adoption, and refine the open-source platform the company has fostered an environment to accelerate innovation and improve its ability as a solutions provider to offer new materials, software, and services. Each new partner broadens the scope of potential applications and also helps improve the program.

Because the end-to-end solution would entirely change manufacturing workflows, implementation has the potential to disrupt entire business models. To ensure that all needs are accommodated, HP has been working with early innovators in various industries (Nike, BMW, Johnson & Johnson) and established a partnership with Deloitte. By making big investments in terms of capabilities and personnel, the company has positioned itself for more successful adoption as a business solution.

The community knows that the possible applications are endless and that innovations are likely to be disruptive. That’s why there has been such a focus on sharing the latest news and discoveries. The Additive Manufacturing User Group (AMUG) has been growing quickly and aims to educate and advance the uses and applications of additive manufacturing technologies. From conferences and competitions to certifications and their blog, the community has been extremely successful in sharing the latest news and best practices, and it’s exciting to imagine how collaboration and adoption will progress additive manufacturing on a global scale.

David Baumgarten is the Founder and President of Novastar Solutions and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. Novastar Solutions has been empowering customers for two decades by delivering best in class IT hardware, software, and lifecycle management services for engineering, product design, simulation, prototyping, and manufacturing, as well as offering A2LA accredited calibration services to ensure test instrument accuracy. As an HP Certified 3D Printing Partner, Novastar hosts Michigan’s only HP MJF 3D Printing Reference and Experience Center and is focused on accelerating adoption of 3D printing as a viable manufacturing solution.

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