Friday, October 9, 2015

3D Printing's Value Is In What It Takes Away

3D printed engine made by Amaero & Monash University
As additive manufacturing continues to gather blinding momentum in various industries all over the world, it is important to recognize what it can really contribute as a new technology. Most innovations are met with gobs of capital investment assuming a return is in volume of production. In fact already, enthusiasts are hailing the future of additive manufacturing as "a 3D printer in every household, on every desktop".

3D printing, while having lots of potential in smaller use, should still certainly be considered the central hub for the manufacturing operation of the future.  The technology is ideal for economizing overall manufacturing and minimizing the use of resources, a suddenly necessary priority for a global society with human population levels never seen before on the planet. Rather than the usual model of mass production, this technology should be strategically utilized for making products not just ample, but efficient in production.

Many big companies already understand this, an example being a recent challenge by French aerospace firm Safran for an airplane engine entirely constructed from additive manufacturing. The result was the first jet engine ever completely manufactured from 3D printing. The effort, a collaboration of Australian-based Amaero Manufacturing and Monash University, was not only hailed for enabling the creation of difficult, customized engine parts, but also for cutting into standard manufacturing lead times as well.  As Simon Marriott, CEO of Amaero said in a statement to Reuters,  "This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal".

Amaero's project turned out to be two prototypes made- one that took a year, and a subsequent one that took only three months. Clearly, the level of improvement in has much more room to grow. In fact, only a few months later, GE Aviation's Additive Manufacturing division made their own attempt at the same goal and produced its own completely 3D printed jet engine that reached 33,000 RPM:

Lightweight, a foot long, and produced in ever-decreasing lead times; GE's latest example proves that mass distribution is indeed possible through paring down the process of manufacturing. If 3D printing machinery can continue to be more and more cost-effective, and match performance of tradiationally manufactured products, the entire industrial process itself should be reconsidered. It's not the what, but the how, that will be 3D printing's thumbprint on the world.  

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

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