“Speed, reliability, and material science have combined to get folks to think of 3D printing as a viable solution for end use parts and not just prototyping and tooling,” Cullen Hilkene, CEO of 3Diligent (El Segundo, CA), a digital manufacturing services provider, told PlasticsToday in a recent interview. “In 2017, we saw some big announcements by newer kids on the block—HP and Carbon—that kicked the rest of industry into gear with regards to embracing additive production. The move into production and some penetration of the market is the big story line I see for 3D printing heading into 2019. We are beginning to see some real use cases of polymer additive in a production capacity,” said Hilkene.
Here are some other observations from Hilkene on the 3D printing landscape today and how it will evolve in the year ahead.
Concerns about the viability of 3D printers have been largely addressed by new innovations and technologies, according to Hilkene. “You would routinely hear people complain about performance relative to machined or injection molded parts—‘Hey, I’ve got a real problem in the z axis.’ The durability of parts from legacy machines were just not there for production, let alone the economics at any meaningful scale,” said Hilkene. “Now, we’re seeing real polymer applications—none more publicized than Carbon’s work with adidas’ Futurecraft shoes.” In 2019, expect to see more stories and public visibility around the use of additive manufacturing in the production space, said Hilkene, who adds that the exposure “will inspire more folks to pursue additive manufacturing within their own organizations.”
The introduction of silicone as a printable material was a pretty significant development in 2018, and that will get more traction in 2019, according to Hilkene. Established polymers will experience incremental advancement, as well. “On the thermoplastics side, HP has announced it's running glass-filled nylon 12; nylon 6, 11 and full-color nylon 12 are in the works. On the thermoset side, a lot of different formulations are being played with and there will be custom formulations, as well. You’re seeing some players get more aggressive around material pricing with an eye to making production more of a reality,” noted Hilkene.
Regarding the impact on specific industries, Hilkene notes, “We have seen additive deployed on applications across all industries.” In automotive, there are opportunities in high performance, mass customization and spare parts. “Plastics will live in the lesser-load-bearing areas, while metal can have a bigger role in higher impact areas. For instance, in high-end motor sports, there have already been some early successes.” He believes additive manufacturing will continue to have “perhaps its biggest impact in the realm of medical applications, because of 3D printing’s capability to produce patient-specific products. There will be continued exploration of custom orthotics and orthopedics.”
In general, Hilkene feels the opportunity for 3D printing in production is bright. “Now that reliability has improved and the efficiency of the machines and price point of the consumables have improved, we are reaching the tipping point where 3D printing becomes a good, viable solution for production,” said Hilkene. “The key now is companies recognizing this and committing to a next generation of products that take full advantage of additive and the unique design flexibility it offers.”
Hilkene will participate in a panel discussion on the key differences and benefits of 3D printing with metals and plastics at the co-located Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West and PLASTEC West event in Anaheim, CA, next month. The panel discussion, scheduled for Feb. 5 at 9:15 AM, is part of the 3D Printing Innovation Summit, which includes dozens of sessions devoted to all facets of the technology during the three-day event. MD&M West and PLASTEC West will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center from Feb. 5 to 7, 2019.
Image courtesy science photo/Adobe Stock.