Latest Technologies, Perspectives and Trends

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AM Market in 2023: Latest Technologies, Perspectives and Trends

Guest post by Dr.-Ing.Vincent Morrison

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The 3D printing industry continues to develop very dynamically. This is due to competition between different 3D processes and technological advances in mechanical and process engineering. In general, this confirms the increasing industrial maturity of 3D printing relative to traditional manufacturing strategies (casting or milling).

Dr.-Ing. Vincent Morrison, CEO of Aim3D, Rostock, Germany
Dr.-Ing. Vincent Morrison, CEO of Aim3D, Rostock, Germany

(Source: Aim3D)

There are many interesting new approaches to manufacturing components in the small and medium series market segments (up to 100,000 parts/year). This applies to both metal and polymer 3D printing, and even ceramic applications. The criteria for competition are build speed, part size, and unit economy. These factors define the investment decisions you make.

For users of 3D printing equipment, the need to increase machine throughput to reduce cost per part will drive demand for more productive machines and cheaper materials. Competitive pressure due to unit prices has forced providers of 3D printing his services to look to the latest generation of machines and systems. This is especially true for future investment decisions.

AM strategy established in the industry

After more than 20 years of development, 3D printing has evolved from a prototype strategy (rapid prototyping) to a small and medium series production strategy. The reason is mainly better build rate and better accuracy. The combination of these build speeds and accuracies continuously improves competitiveness compared to traditional processes. AM now complements an established set of processes.

Many Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers in the industry are well aware of the capabilities and limitations of AM processes. In addition, research institutes, universities, and companies that specialize in helping start-ups help those who are new to the world of AM or who are optimizing their processes. Expertise allows you to get to market faster, but it also reduces your time to market. One of her many examples is Faye Mills, a scientist at the Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC), an independent research and technology organization in Coventry (UK). MTC works with industrial customers to bridge the gap between new manufacturing strategies and specific applications. Faye Mills uses her CEM system on projects from end customers to test new materials in the metals sector, develop component design guidelines, and perform application-oriented optimization of sintering cycles. Such institutions exist in many countries.

Industry and research now possess the industrial know-how for avoiding support structures and appropriate methods for performing cost-effective post-processing of parts. AM is therefore increasingly a process step within the production chain and is no longer considered the only process step. The tagline here is Integrated Digital 3D Process Chain.

The industry has also successfully transferred this knowledge from the process and prototype level to the design phase and end customer communication.

At the same time, however, we also need to evaluate the unique strengths of additive strategies, such as tool-free manufacturing, shape freedom, bionic design, and on-demand manufacturing, and use some keywords. In the future, 3D technology will be used to “think” designs, resulting in innovative part designs that push the boundaries of traditional manufacturing strategies. There is still a lot of potential to explore here.

Possibilities of commercially available pellets for plastics and metals

With the help of pellet 3D printers, companies can develop prototypes from scratch into serial production using identical materials and machinery available on the market. Key to this is a new generation of industrial pellet material extrusion (MEX) printing systems. This not only completes the polymer development cycle from prototype to serial production for the first time in the AM industry, but also allows for a greater number of manufactured parts to be realized in AM series production in the future.

Regarding the printing process, these pellet MEX printers are very similar to the well-known filament MEX/FFF process. This allows for quick adaptation to different industries. Additionally, these pellet printers not only lower unit costs, but expand the number of polymer materials available in the AM world from hundreds to over 10,000. Additionally, many of these printers have multi-component capabilities as they can print two or three materials simultaneously in one print job. For example, Polyamide 6 parts with 50% glass fiber (PA6-50GF) and his TPE seals can be printed in a very economical and competitive way using soluble carrier materials. The options offered by this system technology also allow the combination of process and hybrid components. With hybrid components, one component is traditionally manufactured and the second is printed. This gives many perfect solutions for almost any industrial application.

When it comes to CEM (Composite Extrusion Modeling) and pellet 3D printing with multi-material printers, users can choose from a wide range of materials with high build performance. Last but not least, the ability to process conventional polymer pellets instead of filaments is cost effective. Here are the dimensions based on the component example: a) printing speed (e.g. PA6 GF30: filament: 50 mm/s vs. pellet: 500 mm/s, i.e. about 10 times faster) and above all b) material price (filament: €200/kg vs. pellet: €10 /kg, or about 20 times lower cost). This explains the potential cost savings of the MEX approach.

Current machine and system technology in the field of 3D pellet printing offers excellent mechanical performance, high hermeticity, and media impermeability with thin wall thickness and excellent electrical insulation. These properties are confirmed by Tier 1 suppliers in the automotive and aerospace industries. Therefore, the MEX market segment will continue to grow at an above-average rate beyond 2023.

Main medium- to long-term technical challenges

The first core challenge concerns scrap rates as part of cost optimization. As AM becomes more widely used in continuous manufacturing, machine and plant manufacturers must address the still relatively high scrap rate of AM processes compared to traditional production processes and manufacturing strategies. Even considering the fact that material extrusion and powder bed fusion processes achieve high recycling rates, scrap parts recycling consumes processing time and energy and does not really solve this problem. To overcome this, a key challenge for all AM processes is to stabilize the scrap rate below 2%. This is true even at high throughput. As a result, the AM process scrap rate must be reduced to match the normal scrap rate of the conventional process. A fabricator in the automotive and aerospace sector, he currently achieves scrap rates of 2-2.5% in the metal sector (MIM) and plastic sector. This is already very good and holds true when compared to MIM injection molding and other additive techniques. However, given the higher unit price compared to injection molding, there is a strong need to reduce this ratio significantly. Additive manufacturing must compete with traditional applications to be competitive.

A second challenge facing the AM world is the large number of process parameters that need to be continuously monitored during printing, especially when part build times are considered. Traditional strategies such as in-process part testing using laser sensors are too slow for the dynamics of the build process and are not cost effective. As a result, machine and plant suppliers must look at process control differently. Approaches to this challenge include high-performance PLCs and new sensor technologies, each with its own potential. Complex neural AI process control can also be implemented in machines to control large amounts of process data and numerous process condition domains.

Solving both challenges will be a major future concern for the AM industry. The extent to which these challenges can be met will decisively determine the technical feasibility and profitability of any AM manufacturing strategy.


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