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What 3D Printing Is All About: A Beginner’s Guide

3D Printing Industry

3D printing is also known as “additive manufacturing” because every finished 3D printed product (if opened up sliced) is found to have thin layers of the printing material layed one of top of the other. They were added as such from the bottom-up by the extrusion nozzle of a 3D printer. The object is created from a digital file from a 3D model of it. The computer model is sliced into hundreds or thousands of layers and fed to the 3D printer.

What is the benefit of this system?

Traditional manufacturing is the old or usual way of manufacturing products, using, in contrast, subtractive manufacturing – removing parts of a block of material in order to create the desired shape. For example cutting wood or other materials. Additive manufacturing sees to it that even complex shapes can be created much more easily, uses less materials, and reduces time and wastage significantly. Parts and products can be printed on-site, hence, limiting transport needs. One-off items can be printed quickly and easily eliminating the burden of economies of scale. Products can be customized and redesigned as often as needed. 3D printing uses a variety of printing materials that are readily available – such as plastic, metal, powder, concrete, liquid, and others.

3D printing has been used in many applications and has impacted many industries, notably, the automotive industry, medical and healthcare, aerospace and construction. Others are manufacturing, architecture, design, education, entertainment and fashion.

Some of the most common examples that have been 3D printed came from a wide range of applications and many manufacturing settings. These products are airplane and spacecraft parts, car parts and accessories, running sneaker soles, mannequins and apparel, jewelries, body part prosthesis, robotics, furniture, small houses and buildings, as well as boats and bridges.

On the other hand, here are some examples or amazing, unusual and thought-provoking products: bones and muscles, including ovaries, bionic eyes, blood vessel networks, skin grafts, among others. Likewise, there’s food stuff like pizza, pastries and chocolates. Others are artificial coral reefs, replicas of archeological finds, sculptures, and more. Some homes have their own personal 3D printer that can pretty much churn up common, everyday items.


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A Crisis of Short Supply Addressed by 3D Printing

A Call to The Supply Chain Community

Additive manufacturing can impact the end to end global supply chain. For one, on-demand manufacturing rather than traditional manufacturing can keep less physical inventory on-hand. Likewise, manufacturers can make small changes to digital files quickly at no additional charge. This provides more agility in the manufacturing process. Indeed, manufacturing times are improving. 3D printing companies are helping during this time of the pandemic, when supply chains are disrupted and there are shortages of essential medical equipment.

US hospitals have been overwhelmed by the volume of patients and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), like facemasks, gloves, eye protection, and clothing, putting frontliners at high risk. There’s also a shortage of testing swabs, kits, respirators, and ventilators that sometimes lead to rationing life-saving pieces of equipment and possibly re-using masks. Shortage will continue to place an emotional and physical strain on medical workers. The CDC recommends wearing masks, also in short supply, by the general public to slow down the spread, apart from the more important social distancing.

3D Printed Supplies

The 3D printing industry is helping to address these shortages. A few examples of how 3D printing is helping medical supply shortages.

Massachusetts-based Formlabs, a manufacturer of 3D printers, is now using 250 printers in its Ohio factory to manufacture 100,000 nasal swabs for testing each day. NASCAR has put on hold its manufacture of composite parts of stock cars to do PPEs for healthcare workers, running 18 hours a day making face shields to donate to hospitals. Ford is working with GE Healthcare to build air-pressured ventilators, aiming 50,000 units in the next 100 days. Chevrolet is partnering with Ventec Life Systems to build ventilators and produce more than 50,000 face masks per day. Toyota is building face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed the manufacturing of ventilators.

A Spanish consortium (Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB), HP, Leitat, SEAT, Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa (CST), and the Parc Taulí Hospital, Sabadell) designed the 3D printable respirator that works as an emergency device, aiming between 50 and 100 units on a daily basis. Copper3D has put online an open source file for a 3D-printable N-95 mask.

Supply chain practitioners know the potential for additive manufacturing to print spare parts as needed, rather than having to store parts that are rarely ordered. This pandemic may open more supply chain practitioners to the possibilities of 3D printing.


Saving Grafted Blood Vessels from Failing: 3D Printing

Artificial Blood Vessels Like Real Ones

Did you know that 450,000 patients in the US per year are treated by surgeons for blood clots, coronary disease, stroke damage and more? They replace the damaged part of a blood vessel with a grafted blood vessel. They follow-up by monitoring with CT scans, ultrasounds and other costly imaging procedures. Still and all, a significant 40-50% of those grafted vessels fail.

Over at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, materials science engineers are developing a new, 3D printed artery graft that is made of a flexible composite. The artificial blood vessel, when implanted, allows real time monitoring, even remotely, so that doctors and patients can track its health or issues it may have.

3D geometry constructed the vessel that can produce electric pulses based on the patient’s pressure fluctuation which can tell the blood pressure with precision in that vessel without any other power source. Doctors can tell if there is an irregular motion due to blockage inside in the very early stages.

This is a long-term project by the team with their interest in new soft, flexible materials that are piezoelectric or able to produce an electric charge from mechanical stress, and biocompatible, meaning it will not be damaged or rejected by the body. They used a combination of materials that are capable of flipping polarity when an electric field is applied. Only a regular 3D printer was used that extruded the material through a strong electric field close to the nozzle to polarize the particles, giving the structure its piezoelectric property. When done, the artificial blood vessel was hooked up to an artificial heart system then simulated high blood pressure, blockages, and other issues that beset blood vessels. Due to the unique material used changes in force and pressure within the artery were easily detected.

So what is next for the team? They want to optimize the production of the new ferroelectric composite and the 3D printing process, find ways to make the printed 3D structure even more sensitive, and collaborate with other researchers to test the artery with even more realistic models of the circulatory system. They foresee using the new material to print artificial heart valves.
This new study was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.



3D Printed Airplane Parts : Airlines Finding Value

3D Printed Aircraft Interiors

When Stratasys Aerospace, SIA Engineering Company, and Singapore’s Additive Flight Solutions (AFS) decided to join forces to propose additive manufacturing value to airlines, the aerospace industry took a listen. The value proposition is for 3D printed airplane parts, business models to be offered to the airlines. They proposed cases for aircraft cabins and what obstacles must be overcome to adopt. The key technology is Additive Manufacturing to provide the solutions. While they have used FDM 3D printing technology to produce over 5,000 certified parts for aircraft cabins now, their work deals with functional parts in commercial aircraft cabins.

Here are the proposed aircraft cabin parts. The first is the seat cover that aims to protect seat controllers. Passengers sometimes accidentally activate the functional, often sensitive, buttons causing unintended movement and misunderstandings while in flight. The cover design is more suitable for 3D printing rather than the traditional technique of injection molding. The venture is proposing a solution to airlines that is more affordable, allows for faster production of a low volume order, and easier replacement of parts and maintenance. Another cover is for controlling the seat to prevent activation when baggage is pressed against them, or passengers hit them with their knees.

The next part included 3D printed supports for the underside of the passenger seat, meant to prevent damage due to wear and tear, and load and impact due to ongoing use. Due to weight requirements for airplanes, seats should be lightweight, however, they can also lack strength. There is another cabin part that can be 3D printed – the clip that holds back aircraft curtains which were often coming loose and the venture can 3D print an array of this.

Another part that can be 3D printed is the safety level catch for the emergency doors of the Boeing 787. It’s a critical part that ensures emergency doors do not open while the aircraft is on the ground, creating the potential for injuries as escape slides could be accidentally triggered.

Understandably, 3D printing does not answer all solutions in terms of aircraft cabin replacement parts, but there are many solutions to be offered to airlines. Flight companies like to dabble in endeavors with digital fabrication, add-ons like in-flight cocktails trays, in-flight catering, and other interior components.


3D Printed Terra-Cotta Tiles – New Coral Reefs

Coral Reef By Design

Terra-cotta is a type of earthenware, a clay-based unglazed or glazed ceramic where the fired body is porous. Its usefulness is wide-range, but is generally for sculpture and other practical purposes such as flower pot vessels, roofing tiles, bricks and water pipes. However, there’s an entirely new alternative for this earthenware.

From the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS) of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and its Robotic Fabrication Lab of the faculty of architecture, the scientists and architects are working to produce 3D printed terra-cotta tiles that will serve as artificial reefs. It perfectly looks like the natural patterns of coral reefs. It is known that Hong Kong’s coral reefs are in gradual decline for years, particularly Double Island, Sai Kung where almost 80% is degraded. Bringing about the decline are global warming, pollution, net fishing, water sports, coral bleaching, red tide and bioerosion. Replacing the reefs with man-made artificial reefs can restore and regrow the population. Submerged shipwrecks and cement sculptures are examples.

The 3D printing process makes production easier and more efficient – large pieces can be produced quickly, different designs and functions can be made. Terra-cotta’s highly porous, micro-texture surface is perfect for latching on of marine life. They come in less than 2 feet diameter tiles that are fired in 2,000plus Fahrenheit heat. Best of all, the tiles can each be printed with a different design without increasing the cost. They can also be specific to the environment and underwater conditions, or designed to prevent sediment buildup, a major threat in Hong Kong waters.

This July 2020 in Hong Kong, the scientists laid the reef tiles seeded with coral fragments over a 430-square-foot area across three sites within Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. In the next 2 years, they will monitor the coral growth while they develop new tile designs and expand their project.