3D Printed Car Parts, Human Parts, Oh My!

The 3D Industry Shows No Signs of Slowing

BMW M4 with 3D Design PartsIs the 3D printing industry slumping? Not so, according to the Wohlers Report 2016. Major industrial players, such as Alcoa, are still substantially investing in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. For each of the past two years, the industry has grown by $1 billion. And it doesn’t look like that number will decline much, as automobile manufacturers boost their use of 3D printing methods.

Your Car May Have a 3D Printed Part
Now or in the Future

The shipment of vehicle parts around the world could become archaic in the near future as additive manufacturing is taking hold in the automobile industry.

Since the 1990s, BMW has used 3D printing to make components for the Rolls-Royce Phantom. Volkswagen has also benefited from 3D printing for the rapid prototyping of parts.

More automakers are now using 3D printing in customized components and spare parts. In September, Daimler Trucks is expanding its use of 3D printing processes to produce plastic spare parts, including spring caps, air and cable ducts, clamps, mountings, and control elements. Starting in October, Audi will use 3D printers to make steel tools. And by the end of 2016, Audi will open a 3D competence center to produce components made from steel and aluminum.

Expansion of 3D Printing in Industrial and Medical Applications

Other sectors, particularly the aerospace and medical industries, continue to drive growth in 3D printing.

Catherine Wood, the founder, CEO, and CIO of ARK Invest, explains, “ARK’s research shows that the 3D printing industry has one of the highest growth projections in the economy. As the technology evolves and costs continue to decline, the 3D printing industry has the potential to steal market share from traditional manufacturing and transform every sector of the economy.”

To that point, Alcoa, Inc. recently opened a 3D printing metal powder production facility that will produce proprietary titanium, nickel, and aluminum powders optimized for 3D printed aerospace parts. Alcoa is also testing their new Ampliforge process, which combines additive and traditional manufacturing. This hybrid technique strengthens the properties of 3D printed parts and reduces material input.

Also looking to revolutionize the industrial supply chain, the software company SAP SE and APWorks, a subsidiary of Airbus Defense and Space GmbH, are working together on the adoption and standardization of industrial 3D printing for the aerospace and defense industry. Their collaboration aims to reduce supply chain issues as well as manufacturing and logistical costs in safety-critical situations.

The materials and technology manufacturer Wacker Chemie is shaking up the medical industry with the world’s first industrial 3D printer that uses silicon materials. Using medical-grade silicon in 3D printing technology enables the manufacture of silicon parts and implants with customized or complex geometries, which is impossible using traditional methods such as injection molding.

No stranger to 3D printing—the Smithsonian took his 3D portrait in 2014—President Obama launched five manufacturing competitions at the SelectUSA Summit in June. One of them encourages the development of next-generation methods, such as 3D bioprinting, to repair and replace cells and tissues. Doctors could then use manufactured organs for urgent transplants.

Industry + Academic Partnerships

Collaborations between academia and industry have long seen fruitful outcomes. The recent partnerships between higher education and 3D printing suppliers are no different.

A leader in the 3D printing world, Stratasys Ltd. teamed up with The State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY New Paltz) in June 2016 to offer one of the United States’ most advanced 3D printing superlabs. This new Stratasys MakerBot Additive Research and Teaching (SMART) lab has numerous advanced 3D printers, including an industrial-grade Objet260 Connex3 and a Fortus 400mc from Stratasys as well as more than 40 MakerBot 3D printers. Not only is the lab available to the entire campus, but it also serves as a 3D printing service center for the Hudson Valley community.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) recently established an AMPrint Center for advanced 3D printing technology and materials. In addition to their university partners Clarkson University and SUNY New Paltz, RIT is joining with corporate partners Xerox Corp., GE Research, Corning Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., MakerBot, and other regional companies to create new 3D materials, including various inks.

The U.S. Air Force wants to tackle the maintenance of their aging aircraft more efficiently and affordably. That’s why they’re connecting with The University of Dayton Research Institute and Youngstown State University as well as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including GE, Boeing, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, to develop new technologies in additive and related advanced manufacturing.

As industry increasingly clamors for safer, more efficient materials, there is no doubt that 3D printing will continue to contribute a vital role in creating these materials. A range of 3D printed human parts won’t seem far-fetched after all.

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