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Breakthrough Innovation at Any Speed

Posted on November 23rd, 2015 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

How novel must an innovation be to achieve “breakthrough” status? Is it merely the invention of the of something new and different – the what – or is it first necessary for the innovation to achieve successful commercialization – the how? When it comes to manufacturing, we are currently poised for another breakthrough moment. Take the jump to find out more. 

At present, the what of the breakthrough is additive manufacturing – no surprise there. However, what really caught my attention was the how being described by Joseph DeSimone, an American chemist, CEO of Carbon3D, and Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in this TED talk entitled What if 3D printing was 100x faster? You can use the link above to watch this fascinating and thought provoking presentation on TED or through embedded YouTube video below. Trust me, it will be a worthy investment for 11 minutes of your life.

While Mr. DeSimone’s presentation points out some of the well established benefits of additive manufacturing, such as providing the ability to manufacture geometries that cannot be manufactured by traditional subtractive techniques like milling, casting, forging, or molding, he also presents what he feels are the 3 issues holding back additive manufacturing from making the breakthrough to a true, mainstream manufacturing process:

  1. 3D printing takes forever
  2. Printed parts are mechanically weak
  3. Material choices are far too limited

Having grown up in the aerospace industry and experiencing first hand the bleeding edge form of this technology known as “stereo lithography” at that time, these limitations have certainly plagued the technology for more than two decades. I was captivated by his demonstration of this new process that used light and oxygen as “polar opposites” from a chemical perspective to give new capability and new control of the process as well as the opportunity for a whole new range of materials.

As I watched the demonstration, it also struck me that – although Mr. DeSimone didn’t mention it – his team employed one of the successful techniques common to all innovators. Focusing on the desired outcome – thinking functionally about what is required rather than device or object to improve – opens you up to a range of opportunities you might not otherwise consider. This is immediately noticeable in the Carbon3D approach as the printed part is lifted out of liquid bath rather than being built up by a deposition process employed by traditional 3D printing equipment. This is not only brilliant in that it eliminates the time consuming step of resetting the stage for each new layer, but effectively eliminates the stratification used by traditional techniques resulting in the rough layers and directional material properties.

Another huge advantage to inverting the stage and lifting the part that was not described in the presentation, is that this new process uses gravity to provide rigidity, eliminating the need to introduce support structures in the geometry that would otherwise sag or droop in the traditional process. Think about any geometric configuration having a “T” shape or a wing. That unsupported section would tend to droop due to gravity as the stage dropped with each successive layer. As we all know from our university mechanics of materials class, a cantilever beam is the highest stressed configuration for a structure. To combat this, elaborate support structures must be introduced to the model – further slowing the production time – and subsequently requiring removal after the model is cured. Inverting the stage enables the creation of even thinner structures – pulling on a rope rather than pushing – to produce results of finer precision and of net shape.

Are we at the point now where additive manufacturing reaches breakthrough status becoming a mainstream manufacturing process? Is speed of the current process the limiting factor as Mr. DeSimone describes the chasm that needs to be crossed for mass adoption? Viewing this demonstration, and the range of limitations the Carbon3D process overcomes, we are certainly closer than ever to eliminating the delay between idea and final part. Exciting times to be an engineer!

Tell me about your experience – have any triumphs or setbacks with 3D printing to share? How has your company used additive manufacturing – strictly for prototyping or in production? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

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