Is 3-D Metal Printing Changing Manufacturing?

First published on the blog of the Society of Internet Professionals (SIP). SIP is a not-for-profit, Toronto (Canada) based International organization to connect, learn and share. Our Vision is to provide the opportunity to leverage technology to have an inclusive future for everyone.  Since 1997, SIP has spearheaded many initiatives, educational programs, and networking events.

Although it began decades ago, 3-D printing has been used mainly by hobbyists and one-time prototype designers. Most common material using these printers has been plastics since metal 3-D printing proved slow and costly.

With new technology, the efficiency of 3-D printing rises and the costs of producing parts and materials using it declines. This makes the technology sufficiently flexible, easy to use and opens practical ways to manufacturing industry to produce various parts, mechanisms and machines. Technologists are currently working to broaden the possibilities of making these products, and it largely adopted, it has a great chance to change how mass-production works.

The breakthrough of 3-D metal printing consists of creating products on demand at a low cost and fast. The new milestone is to produce large, complex metal products when required. So far, these are the companies which design and produce 3-D printing machines: Desktop Metal, Markforged, GE.

Markforged, a small startup from Boston, released the first 3-D metal printer with prices less than $100,000. The first metal prototyping machines were shipped in December 2017 by Desktop Metal, a company located in the same area of the US. They are working on machines for the manufacturing industry which include methods to make products 100 times faster.

Desktop Metal is the creator of software generating designs ready for 3-D printing. The 3-D metal printing becomes easier because the users insert the specs of the product to print, then the program creates the model required to print that product.

The third key player, GE, has been supporting 3-D printing for aviation products they deliver and they start testing their GE new metal printer which produces large parts in a reasonable amount of time.

This leading-edge technology can create a variety of parts in different densities, quantities from very small to large, various weights and strength, also generating parts with complex shapes which production is otherwise unthinkable using traditional metal fabrication methods. Also, the microstructure of metals can be controlled more precisely during production using this advanced technology. For example, a 3-D-printing new method created stainless-steel parts having a significantly higher strength than those produced conventionally, the experiment taking place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

What do we expect happening as a result of the considerable expansion of the 3-D metal printing?

In the short run, maintaining large inventories becomes useless because manufacturers would easily print an object, or a part or some replacement for a specific mechanism or machine, at the exact time required by the customer. In the long run, it can lead to a dramatic transformation of the distribution and supply chain management system.

As well, the smaller production, wide range of products for increasing customers’ needs could replace the production of a limited range of parts which currently may be produced at an unnecessary larger scale. This way, production generates less waste and more customer satisfaction.


by Cory Popescu