Over the past few decades, additive manufacturing has been developed and refined to become a go-to technology for prototyping and low-volume production runs across various industries.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is a process of creating a three-dimensional object from a digital file. The object is created by additively building up layers of material instead of conventional manufacturing processes like machining or casting, which involve removing material from a solid block.
Today, there are a growing number of examples of additive manufacturing being used in the real world beyond just prototyping. Here are five examples of AM in action:
1. Dental implants
Dental implants are small titanium posts surgically inserted into the jawbone to serve as the roots of artificial teeth. They are custom-made to fit each patient's mouth and are usually manufactured using computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).
The traditional method of manufacturing dental implants involves machining them from solid titanium blocks. However, this is a time-consuming and expensive process. As an alternative, some dental implant manufacturers use additive manufacturing to create custom implants quickly and affordably.
Align Technology, Inc., for example, uses additive manufacturing to produce its Invisalign clear aligners. These are orthodontic devices that are used to straighten teeth gradually. Invisalign aligners are made from a transparent plastic material produced using AM.
Another company using additive manufacturing to produce dental implants is Straumann, a leading provider of dental implants and other oral health products. Straumann uses AM to produce its BLX implant from a titanium alloy.
2. Engine Parts
Additive manufacturing is used to create engine parts for various applications, including automotive, aerospace, and power generation. AM engine parts are lighter and more durable than their conventionally-manufactured counterparts and can be produced quickly and cost-effectively in low volumes.
Commercial and military aerospace companies are some of the most significant users of additively manufactured engine parts. CFM International's LEAP turbofans, which power Boeing and Airbus aircraft, have set a new standard for fuel efficiency thanks in part to the use of 3D-printed parts.
Additively manufactured engine parts are also being used in the automotive industry. The first 3D-printed car, the Strati, was unveiled at the 2014 International Motor Show in Geneva. The Strati is made from a lightweight plastic produced using additive manufacturing processes.
Yes, you read that correctly—printing food using 3D printers is now possible. While this technology is still in its infancy, it has the potential to revolutionise the food industry by making it possible to create customized meals that are tailored to an individual's specific nutritional needs. It could also be used to print food in remote locations where traditional food production methods are impossible.
One company that is at the forefront of 3D food printing is Redefine Meat. Redefine Meat's 3D food printer can print plant-based meat products that look and taste like the real thing. The company's goal is to make 3D-printed meat products that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable than traditional meat products.
4. Medical Implants
Like dental implants, medical implants are custom-made to fit each patient's individual needs. They can be made from various materials, including metals, ceramics, and polymers. Additive manufacturing technologies such as stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS) are well-suited for producing medical implants.
These devices are often used in orthopaedic, craniofacial, and spinal surgery. One example of an additively manufactured medical implant is the titanium rib cage that was created for a patient who had cancer. This implant was made using electron beam melting and was designed to replace the patient's ribs that had been removed.
5. Glasses Frames
While you might not think they are high-tech, eyeglasses are pretty complex. They are made of various materials, including metals, plastics, and glass. Companies making eyeglasses are increasingly turning to additive manufacturing to produce custom frames tailored to each individual's specific needs.
For example, Monoqool is a Danish start-up that is using 3D printing to produce eyeglass frames that are made from a single piece of plastic. The company's goal is to create both innovative and stylish eyeglasses. Their 3D-printed frames are currently available in various colours and styles.
How Will Additive Manufacturing Impact the Future?
Additive manufacturing is a rapidly evolving technology that is having a significant impact on a variety of industries. As technology continues to advance, enterprises will likely begin to adopt it.
One of the most exciting aspects of additive manufacturing is its potential to create made-to-order customised products. This could have a significant impact on the way that products are manufactured and distributed in the future.
It is also possible that additive manufacturing will lead to the development of new materials that are stronger and lighter than traditional materials. This could have a major impact on industries such as aerospace and automotive.
AM is also likely to have a major impact on the environment. The technology has the potential to create products that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable than traditional manufacturing methods.
All in all, additive manufacturing is a technology that will have a major impact on the future.