As 3D printing technology is rapidly being adopted for use by a myriad of industries, how does it stand to impact mainstream manufacturing? Naji Atallah, Head of AEC & Manufacturing at Autodesk, shares his perspective
Form, function and the future
When the first Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, society made its first push from an agrarian way of life to an economy fully dominated by industry and machine manufacturing. This push garnered the introduction of the factory and the idea of modern day manufacturing. Success was measured by how much you could create in how little time, which eventually became the catalyst for a worldwide economic boom. With the introduction of a host of innovative ideas like the factory, the steam engine, and textile machines, a new era was born in the race to create and make things.
Fast forward almost 300 years, this very race still continues albeit with a new look. For instance, the idea that modern manufacturing could be done without a factory would have almost seemed farfetched to some, especially since manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, machine tools, production lines and economies of scale. The idea that manufacturing can exist without tooling, assembly lines or supply chains is disruptive in nature but that is what is emerging as 3D printing starts to take centre stage.
3D printing, which is a kind of additive manufacturing, has been around for decades but what’s new is that the technology has reached consumer-friendly price points and footprints, new materials and techniques are making new things possible. The new industrial revolution will hope to open up manufacturing to the whole world -?anyone and everyone can be a part of the process. 3D printing manufacturing can now be done in the comfort of your own home, a hospital or even at school, bringing manufacturing to non-manufacturers or to non-traditional environments.
The printed world
As accuracy has improved and the size of printed objects has increased, 3D printing services are being utilised in a number of industries today including aerospace, automotive, healthcare and sport. In aerospace for example, using generative-design software and 3D printing, Airbus with Autodesks help was able to manufacture something called a bionic partition. That partition, the slim but all-important wall that separates the crew from passengers, includes space for emergency stretcher access and holds the crews fold-down seating for take-offs and landings. The bionic-design partition weighs 30 kilograms, which is 45 per cent lighter than conventional partitions, resulting in huge savings in both fuel and carbon footprint. This technology although small in nature has the capabilities of being a huge step for mankind. Today a 3D printed partition, tomorrow a 3D printed airplane. The technology has brought changes many would have thought impossible only a few years ago.
The automotive industry has many examples of 3D printing success stories. One example of these success stories is from Arizona-based Company, Local Motors which has aimed to create the first road-ready 3D printed car. The LM3D Swim which is roughly 75 per cent 3D printed will be up for pre-order as early as next year. In addition to using additive manufacturing, Local Motors also partnered with industry leaders to further enhance the driving experience through cutting-edge technologies.
We have seen great strides in 3D printing in the healthcare and sport industries as well. For instance, healthcare can be attributed with having the most inspiring use of 3D printing, where the technology has had the potential to save lives or dramatically improve them. By printing complex material that we could not do previously, we are able to mimic human bones ensuring strength and durability. 3D printing in healthcare still may have some years to go before mass adoption is widely accepted, but early developments to create tissue, organs, bones and prosthetic devices provide a glimpse of how lives may be improved.
German athlete Denise Schindler has bridged the gap between health and sport by working with Autodesk recently to become the first athlete to compete in Paralympics with a fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games where she won a silver medal.
Within the sport industry as a whole, 3D printing is utilised to manufacture high quality products for athletes of all shapes and sizes. In sport, we have seen the likes of Under Armour move into the 3D-printed game with the launch of its limited-edition performance training shoe, The Architech. The Architech is a highly advanced, multi-purpose athletic shoe that was designed specifically for customers who regularly perform a wide range of exercises and activities. It has a latticed, 3D printed midsole that is as lightweight and comfortable as a traditional athletic shoe, but also adds the type of stability usually reserved for more specialised shoes. With the creation of shoes like this, we have entered a new era in which the capabilities of wearable 3D printed technology are endless.
3D printing has paved the way for a change in business operations by ensuring that the technique in creating a product is not just replaced, but completely bettered. In the field of construction, we have seen the creation of bridges or buildings significantly improve. In Holland, a local company MX3D has set out to 3D print a fully functional, intricate steel pedestrian bridge over water in the centre of Amsterdam to showcase new revolutionary technology. MX3D equips industrial multi-axis robots with 3D tools and develops the software to control them. The team research and develop ground-breaking, cost-effective robotic technology that can 3D print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form. This would have been thought of as unimaginable previously as manufacturing was always associated with goods as opposed to construction.
We can consider ourselves lucky that we can witness a sweeping change in manufacturing that has allowed us to create entirely new products that may not have existed or have been imaginable years ago.
Powering 3D printing
What we see now is merely a glimpse into what a 3D printed future will look like. To help consumers (especially businesses) prepare for this new era of design, tech leaders are committed to introducing sound solutions. For instance, the team at Autodesk is developing a robust portfolio of tools to help people thrive in this new era. These tools are designed to be accessible, easy to use and powerful. As an example, Autodesk Netfabb 2017 is a comprehensive toolkit for additive manufacturing professionals. Users can access all the software they need to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve part performance in industrial 3D printing production environments. It integrates design enhancement, manufacturing preparation and build simulation tools in one software environment that shares a common installer, common file formats and process definitions.
Another area that is being looked at very closely is the implementation of 3D printing on a large scale. With Project Escher, an assembly line of 3D printers governed by a smart setup that can control an endless number of print heads to create larger projects. It aims to be a faster way to manufacture complex parts by coordinating independent printers to create one large build volume. It works by giving different bots different print jobs. Not only has this ensured that the object being printed will be larger, but the time needed to do so is significantly cut down.
Autodesk also recently announced its willingness to invest up to US$100 million in 3D printing companies. The Spark Investment Fund, which will be operated within Autodesk, is the first of its kind for the 3D printing industry and will invest in entrepreneurs, start-ups and researchers who push the boundaries of 3D printing technology and accelerate the new industrial revolution.
Today, we are on the brink of the biggest change in how we make things since the industrial revolution, and 3D printing is one of the reasons of the disruption. The opportunities are greater than ever. Together we are changing the way the world is designed and made.