He is also keeping an eye on core 3D-printing technologies. “As an industry, we have a pretty impressive set right now—Multi Jet Fusion, selective laser sintering, stereo-lithography and the rise of binder jet additive manufacturing like HP’s Metal Jet,” said Benning. Regarding the latter method, the productivity boost it imparts will drive growth in bringing 3D-printed metal parts to the market, said Benning.
While additive manufacturing is on a solid growth trajectory in the production space, it continues to wrestle with some challenges, including the breadth of compatible materials, the consistency and functionality of finished parts and the integration of the technology into the manufacturing environment writ large.
“We’re doing a good job on cost factors—runs of thousands to tens of thousands of parts, or more, are economically advantaged with Multi Jet Fusion right now,” said Benning. As Industry 4.0 and digital manufacturing take hold, “data systems and automation will make core 3D printing technology a much more productive and valuable part of the manufacturing ecosystem,” he added.
As for materials, it’s true that we are looking at very different quantities—hundreds instead of the tens of thousands available for injection molding, Benning acknowledged. “But how different are these tens of thousands of plastics from each other?” he asks. “Can you get to the same place with a 3D printing material? For example, take a material with an added pigment for injection molding. HP has a color 3D printer coming out that lets you pick the color on the fly. You won’t need to add a different material. A benefit of 3D printing is that you may not need all of those materials to achieve your objective,” said Benning. Nevertheless, “we do have some interesting work ahead of us to bring more materials into the 3D-printing space,” he added.
Image courtesy iaremenko/Adobe Stock.