Trends in Additive Manufacturing for end-use production with 3D Systems

3D Printing Industry is taking an in depth look at how additive manufacturing is moving to production. Over the coming weeks the results of interviews with industry leading practitioners will be published.

This article is part of a series examining Trends in Additive Manufacturing for End-Use Production.

Menno Ellis is Senior Vice President, Strategy and Vertical Markets, at 3D Systems. With a long history of developing 3D printing technology and extensive experience in the industry, 3D Systems shares this substantial insight into how 3D printing is used for production.

3D Printing Industry: What is your percentage estimate of how much your printers are used for production versus other applications?

Menno Ellis: Thirty years ago, when 3D Systems invented 3D Printing and started this industry, it focused largely on prototyping applications. The technology now has evolved to a point where a majority of parts from our printers are used for production.  

The most well known production categories are end-use parts that require varying degrees of post-processing post printing. The examples of these are:

  • Medical or dental implants/prosthetics/prosthodontics or hearing aids that are placed inside (worn by) people and animals.
  • Medical models produced in advance of surgical procedures.
  • Metal components such as antennas, brackets, or manifolds that require minimal sanding or polishing before being put into use.
  • Plastic end-use parts in aerospace or automotive applications (for example) that are printed and then painted or plated.
  • Direct printed jewelry items, shoes (or shoe parts), fashion accessories, etc.

Other examples include:

Jigs and fixtures that are often produced in high volume to enable production or packaging of other items.

Sacrificial patterns or items that are produced in high-volume (e.g., resin or wax patterns for industrial, jewelry, or dental casting; resin molds for production dental aligners, etc.)  

Then in the broadest sense of the word, you can think about the scenario where prototypes are being developed in a high throughput production environment in either service bureaus or inhouse by industrial manufacturers, such as for example hand tool manufacturers  Bridge manufacturing for a variety of products – Typically the first 100 or 1,000 new products are 3D Printed to shorten time-to-market before tooling, etc. is ready.

In light of the above, it is fair to say that a majority of parts from our printers are being used for production. Meanwhile prototyping also remains as an important application and is typically used to develop small volume prototypes and models by R&D departments, service bureaus, schools, architectural firms, hobbyists, and inventors, etc.

3D Systems Figure 4 quad engine and the Pro X 500 3D printer at RAPID + TCT. Photo by Michael Petch.
3D Systems Figure 4 quad engine and the Pro X 500 3D printer at RAPID + TCT. Photo by Michael Petch.

3DPI: Do you have an estimate of the addressable market for AM in production?

ME: When you look globally across industries the addressable market easily gets into the tens of billions of dollars because of the wide and growing range of potential applications. In fact, some in the industry present forecasts in the hundreds of millions or even billions as they look into the future. While we take a more conservative view based on the current state of the industry, we can all agree that the opportunity is vast. Moreover, with penetration being relatively low today, we expect adoption to increase rapidly across a numbers of industries as a result of faster build speeds, larger build platforms, more and better materials, lower equipment and operating costs.

3DPI: Which industries are leading in the use of AM for production?  

ME: Dental and medical because of the high need of customization.

Industrial (including aerospace and auto) because of the complex nature of the parts being created – you can create better/lighter parts than you could with other methods, or frankly having the ability to create parts that you cannot create via other methods.

Jewelry and casting (again – ranging across a wide set of industries) because of the efficiency of developing effective patterns without needing to invest in tooling.

3DPI: What barriers does AM face for production and how are these surmountable?

ME: Materials is a key factor that gates production. Having the appropriate materials that substitute incumbent materials is key.

Qualification and certification in highly regulated industries (e.g., aero and medical).

Resistance to change from “traditional” operators.

Design skills so as to design specifically for 3D Printing.

Surmounting these obstacles starts with developing and continually expanding a portfolio of materials that can address customer and end-user expectations for the performance of production parts.

Also, software such as 3D Systems’ 3D Sprint and 3DXpert helps reduce the learning curve and level of expertise required to integrate 3D printing. In parallel, there needs to be extensive education and transparent information sharing both from an engineering and application standpoint to demonstrate what it possible, and how AM would integrate within incumbent workflows.

3D Systems 3DXpert Software. Photo by Michael Petch.

This requires a lot of 1:1 engagement with prospects and regulatory bodies, as well as proactive application development by AM solution providers. This means having a great deal of expertise in-house, as well as facilities where visitors can come and engage with the team, equipment, etc.

We leverage our internal experts and facilities to guide customers through commissioning, qualification, and certification of AM solutions that will ultimately move to their own facilities; thus guiding them every step of the way by leveraging our own experience. We are in the unique position of having a world-class parts manufacturing division with a global footprint (our On Demand Manufacturing group) that plays a key role in enabling this for a variety of cross-industry clients. We have established a one of-a-kind program to facilitate this for the medical industry, which has its own set of more stringent regulatory requirements to certify partners in precision healthcare production.

Finally, we recognize the need for AM to provide a strong ROI and compelling total cost of operations to any companies considering implementation. We have thus developed a series of robust economic modeling tools to help customers see the value proposition and measurable benefits from adopting the change.

In summary, if you want to break through the adoption barriers you need to help companies build a holistic story that proves all the technical and economic benefits. We do that by providing clear and compelling answers to 4 key variables: durability, reliability, repeatability, and TCO (total cost of operations).

3D Systems CEO on 3D Printing for Industry. Photo by Michael Petch.

3DPI: Are there any notable trends in AM for end use production?

ME: The AM industry is at an inflection point and therefore industries more and more are considering AM for production. Accordingly people have really learned to ask the right questions when looking at AM – from workflow integration to material properties to economic benefits. Few will seriously consider AM for end-use production without a thorough evaluation and pressure-testing the benefits.

Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are increasingly combined with AM solutions to provide greater supply chain predictability & visibility, economic benefits, and uptime (monitoring, machine learning, preventive maintenance, etc.)

3DPI: Can you name any specific case studies where AM is used for end use production?

ME: We are very active in the industries mentioned above.

Medical and dental for prosthetics, prosthodontic, and hearing aids for example, Microdent – DMP Metal/dental bridges.

Other published case studies in this area include Middle ear prostheses, GN Resound, Natasha Hope Simson: 3d scanning, Geomagic, SLA, Derby Dog: 3d printed custom fit prosthetic legs, and the 3D printed custom exoskeleton helps Amanda Boxtel walk,

Aerospace for manufacturing of high-end components where strength-to-weight is critical is another important area. For example the Airbus RF antenna, Thales Alenia satellite bracket, Boeing using SLS and European Space agency rocket parts.  

In Jewelry MJP/wax systems have been used by Vowsmith, SIU, and Uptown Diamond and Jewelry.

For the Automotive industry examples include this underpulley gear for MTI/English Racing, Nissan Motorsports, Renault F1 and the Ecojet air vents tested by Jay Leno.

Other industrial and Durable Good applications include Bastec and these 3D printed, conformally-cooled injection molds and this University of Maryland CEEE consolidated heat exchanger.

3D Systems Figure 4 prints. Photo by Michael Petch
3D Systems Figure 4 prints. Photo by Michael Petch

3DPI: Is  there is anything else you’d like to highlight in this area?

ME:  AM adoption in production provides an opportunity for the long standing promised benefits of AM to become reality such as economic benefits, more efficient supply chain, breakthrough product innovation, improved health & personal care.

While many companies will continue to be excited to enter into this space and claim ability to provide production-caliber solutions, we believe only a subset will truly be able to do so. We thus expect to see some bifurcation occurring in the industry where some players will naturally gravitate towards the prototyping and small volume model production space, while others will successfully move into the production space with industrial-caliber solutions, with a robust set of hardware, software, materials, vertical and applications expertise.

A healthcare revolution is taking place throughout the world, founded on the ability to create highly personalized 3D printed medical devices and patient-specific surgical simulation and direct printing of individualized implants and customized instrumentation.

This revolution is not only fueled by speed and cost, it is transforming and enriching lives. We partner with surgeons, healthcare professionals, medical device manufacturers, and medical teaching staff to offer a range of precision healthcare solutions, including virtual reality simulators, 3D printed anatomical models, virtual surgical planning, patient-specific surgical guides, instrumentation and implants.

We have already established our expertise in the production space with our portfolio of plastics and metals printers combined with our materials, software and services, and are heavily investing in new platforms that will challenge the domain historically occupied by injection molding and traditional manufacturing methods.

We are doing so through the development of production grade materials and printer platforms like Figure 4 that can match or surpass injection molding cost and throughput for specific applications. All these innovations are being brought to market with the help of the aforementioned team of vertical and application experts and customer innovation centers (CIC’s) across the world

Nominations for the 2018 3D Printing Industry Awards are now open. Let us know who is leading the industry.

This article is part of a series examining Trends in Additive Manufacturing for End-Use Production.

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