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Waxing Hyperbolic About 3D Printing in 2017

Posted on January 3rd, 2018 by in New Materials & Applications

3D printed sphere

Image by metalurgiamontemar0 [CC0 1.0] via pixabay

Will 2017 be remembered as the year 3D printing matured beyond prototyping to production? Ponder this quick compilation reporting the biggest, the best, or the most impressive from the following year.

Ushering in a new year is never complete without introspection of trends shaping our culture. For engineers and scientists, that means the technology and innovation driving our research and our professions such as the contemporary technology known as 3D printing.

The terms “3D printing” and “additive manufacturing” are typically used synonymously. While reading a recently published article from MIT Technology Review on the The Five Most Amazing Things That Were 3-D Printed This Year, the thought crossed my mind whether a distinction between these terms was warranted. Unless an operation can support production at scale, can it truly be referred to as “manufacturing”?

One example highlighted in the article is Adidas’ partnership with additive manufacturing company Carbon to produce athletic shoe elastomer midsoles. At production speeds 90X faster than previous methods, it certainly qualifies as “amazing” to me. The report also notes a projected production capacity of a million shoes per year with the addition of a new Atlanta plant in 2018, passing my “at scale” test.

3D printing is often credited with the capability to produce geometry that’s impossible using traditional subtractive machining techniques. However, production speed has often been a deterrent. Have a look at how the Mechanosynthesis Group at MIT has used lasers and high-speed extrusion screws to address this challenge in the following YouTube video:

In 2017, GE went big in additive manufacturing with one cubic meter production capacity machines, Apis Cor began 3D printing residential houses, and researchers created a ink capable of printing “living materials”. In retrospect, 3D printing technology appears to have summited Gartner’s infamous hype-cycle “slope of enlightenment” in 2017 leaving 2018 as the year for the plateau of productivity.

What percentage of your company’s production capacity includes additive manufacturing? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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