ASTM International publishes special issue journal on additive manufacturing during COVID

Covid-19 and additive manufacturing is the subject of a new journal from industrial standards organization ASTM International.

Smart and Sustainable Manufacturing in the Post-COVID-19 Manufacturing Era’ comprises 21 peer-reviewed technical notes looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected various areas of advanced manufacturing. Covered in the issue is the use of biotechnology platforms for vaccine production, the integration of artificial intelligence, the effect of additive manufacturing on supply chains, and more.

Explaining the reasoning for the issue, ASTM writes, “This pandemic created a totally uncharted territory, and nobody knows the path forward. Through this special issue, we want to give the world thought leadership for post–COVID-19 manufacturing. Though some of the use cases are from the USA, we feel that we have given the world a compendium of possible actions from practical and policy perspectives.”

ASTM also provides 3D printing training courses for professionals. Photo via ASTM International.
As well as industrial standards, ASTM also provides 3D printing training courses for professionals. Photo via ASTM International.

Additive manufacturing as an emergency response

Looking at the 3D printing content in the issue, the technical note ‘Rapid Retooling for Emergency Response with Hybrid Manufacturing’ details how additive manufacturing, together with conventional production processes, can serve as an emergency response in times of high manufacturing demand.

Although less so now, the number of PPE units, infection testing kits, and vaccine research materials was in severe short supply at the very start of the global pandemic. To support the needs of a whole population at scale, intensive manufacturing was needed, and the production of these products has historically depended on the smooth operation of the tool and die industry.

With international borders closing virtually overnight, steel casting imports from overseas suppliers saw a major drop, and the U.S. in particular was left unprepared as its normal supply chains were cut. ASTM has identified hybrid manufacturing systems as a potential saviour here, whereby 3D printing can be used to manufacture casts and other tooling locally, while subtractive manufacturing can be used to finish 3D printed parts and ensure high surface qualities.

Furthermore, owing to the lack of a production line, complex tooling geometries can be iterated on the fly, reducing lead times and the costs associated with long-term product development. For certain ‘rapid retooling’ scenarios, the issue estimates that additive manufacturing can reduce costs by up to 96%, all while reducing a nation’s reliance on overseas supply chains and keeping money circulating in the local economy.

3D printed tooling produced on the Stratasys F900 Production 3D Printer. Photo via Stratasys.
3D printed tooling produced on the Stratasys F900 Production 3D Printer. Photo via Stratasys.

Pandemic-proofing factories

The other major focus area takes a deeper dive into the supply chain, looking inside individual production facilities. ‘Towards Next Generation Pandemic Proof Factories’ explores the role of 3D printing in helping to create a safer working environment while protecting the productivity of an organization via production line redesigns.

With social distancing rules rife in almost every country in the world, performing regular daily operations on the shop floor has become extremely challenging. On top of now having to watch out for nearby co-workers, skilled laborers are feeling the effects of employee shortages due to lockdowns and quarantine requirements.

The issue has cited additive manufacturing as a useful tool here, as the highly digital nature of the technology lends itself to remote work, providing flexibility in producing parts with minimal physical human presence. With many industrial-grade machines now touting IoT functionality, entire print farms can be managed from a single computer. As a bonus, the rise of automated post-processing systems is also a contributing factor, ensuring minimal disruptions in the entire 3D printing workflow.

Rendering of a Sapphire 3D printer production facility. Image via VELO3D.
Rendering of a Sapphire 3D printer production facility. Image via VELO3D.

As a standards developer, ASTM plays a part in every sector that makes use of additive manufacturing. The organization’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE) recently signed a cooperative agreement with NASA to partner on ‘activities of common interest’. The three-year contract between the partners, worth a reported $750,000, will see NASA identify potential 3D printing projects for the AM CoE to execute.

Back in September, ASTM also launched its third round of funding to support research projects that encourage standardization in the field of additive manufacturing. The capital injection, supported by additional in-kind contributions, will go towards facilitating eight different projects with the ultimate aim of “aligning technical standardization with the rapidly evolving AM industry”.

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Featured image shows 3D printing at ASTM’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. Photo via ASTM International.