Friday, June 28, 2013

Additive Manufacturing: Moving Aviation Forward

Just a few decades ago, “manufacturing” would invoke images of an assembly line of workers welding massive pieces of machinery together. Today, you’re probably hearing about “3D printing” and high-tech manufacturing robots that sound quite futuristic.

Today’s manufacturing reality is evolving to keep pace with changing customer demands and competition. Companies are exploring advanced manufacturing techniques to increase productivity and efficiency.

As products grow more sophisticated, the methods for manufacturing them have also progressed. We’re not in our grandfathers’ manufacturing plant any more.

One example of this trend is in the aviation industry – something I know quite well as the general manager for New Product Introduction at GE Aviation. Airplane engines are made up of more than 10,000 highly precise components. Precision and the right materials are crucial to developing engines that will reliably move up to nearly 650 million people per day in the U.S. alone.

The stakes are high, so engine manufacturers like GE Aviation spend a long time making sure each engine and each part is exact. In fact, one engine goes through hundreds of hours of testing before it gets certified and delivered to a customer.

Today, jet engine components are manufactured using “subtractive” machining methods. Raw materials are cut into a desired shape through turning, drilling, milling and grinding. Subtractive machining techniques are precise, but they are confined within the limits of the machine, tools or apparatus.

Subtractive manufacturing has been the gold standard in manufacturing, but now many companies – including GE Aviation – are looking at additive manufacturing to create precise parts. Additive manufacturing is sometimes known as “3D printing,” and there are many benefits to it:

·         Minimal waste: Additively manufactured parts are “grown” from the ground up, resulting in little to no material waste.

·         Efficiency: In many cases, additive manufacturing creates parts more quickly than subtractive manufacturing with fewer steps and tools, and with a more cost-effective assembly.

·         Flexibility: While subtractive manufacturing techniques are confined to tools, molds and apparatuses, additive manufacturing allows the engineer to make more complex geometries as well as manufacture prototype components for testing and analysis.

·         Quality: State material properties are better than castings and very similar to wrought materials.

·         Lighter: Printed parts can be made lighter than forged parts, which translate into lighter jet engines and fuel savings for aircraft.

There are many forms of additive manufacturing, but GE Aviation is focused on a specific additive technology called direct metal laser melting (DMLM), which precisely melts fine layers of metal powders layer by layer from the bottom up until the build is complete.  These layers measure less than .001 of an inch and the machines run “lights out” with 24/7 continuous operation.

This is a model jet engine using the selective laser melting technique. It has moving parts that were printed in an assembled state, so no fitting or welds were required.

Watch this video to learn more about how GE Aviation is using additive manufacturing:

Last week, GE Aviation was at the Paris Air Show, where we had a  3D printer on view to demonstrate how engine parts can be created through the additive manufacturing process.

We’re planning to produce fuel nozzles tips using this manufacturing technique, and these parts will be a part of the LEAP engine, due to go into planes by 2016. There are 19 nozzles in each engine, and two engines per plane. We anticipate that by 2020, well over 100,000 parts in GE and CFM engines will be produced through additive manufacturing.

I believe product innovation will increasingly go hand-in-hand with manufacturing innovation. Applying additive manufacturing processes to jet engine design is just one of many steps in this direction, so keep an eye out for exciting new manufacturing innovations to come.
In 3D printing - also known as additive manufacturing - a digital model guides the successive deposition of material until a three dimensional object is formed. The technology is being assessed as a way of making a range of objects including drugs, as we learned earlier this week .

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) - which is already funding a study to see if 3D printing could be used to make a pizza in space - says the approach could also be used to produce pharmaceuticals en route to Mars.

Spokesman David Steitz told that: "Additive manufacturing of pharmaceuticals in space should be possible, depending on the ingredients ability to be sprayed and layered through the printing process."

"In terms of the technology itself, it's conceivable that additive manufacturing equipment would be able to produce pharmaceuticals during long-duration space missions to Mars, or beyond."

Shelf life

But while NASA is open to the concept, the decision to start developing 3D printing for drug production in space would depend on the efficiencies gained by doing so as Steitz explained.

"There may be some efficiencies to be had in taking the basic ingredients of pharmaceuticals to orbit in quantity and then having a machine "print" customized pills, tailored to the individual needs of crew members.

"Or there may be efficiencies to be had in terms of weight, crew time, energy consumption and quality control to simply take most of your pill medications with you, depending on shelf life."

In 2011, a NASA study revealed that active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) degradation, discolouration and phase separation in solid dose drugs happens faster in space than it does on Earth suggesting that the ability to make pills in space may be useful.

"NASA recognizes that in-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for game-changing weight savings and new mission opportunities, whether "printing" food, tools or entire spacecraft. Additive manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials for deep space travel."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Getting to Know the Selective Deposition Lamination Method of 3D Printing

If you are of the opinion that 3D printing is the realm of extruded plastics or jetted polymers, you should invest a few minutes to discover a new dimension to 3D printing: paper. Combined with high-resolution color printing, Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) may be the truest embodiment of the term 3D printing, considering raw materials and process.

For the past decade, Mcor Technologies has been diligently developing a 3D printing alternative that negates a key barrier to accessibility, material cost, while adding the dimension of color, an ability that eludes nearly all 3D printers.

In its white paper, How Paper-based 3D Printing Works: The Technology and Advantages, Mcor shows us how a few reams of office paper are transformed into full-color, professional-grade parts that are surprisingly durable. Having written my share of white papers, I can honestly say that this document is extremely well done: thorough yet concise and company-centric yet informative.

I have been following this company and technology for over five years. It’s good to see it become widely and readily available. I believe that Selective Deposition Lamination will do well in education and industry when those that control the budget question the expense of yet another round of prototyping.

3-D Printing Will Change the World

To anyone who hasn’t seen it demonstrated, 3-D printing sounds futuristic—like the meals that materialized in the Jetsons’ oven at the touch of a keypad. But the technology is quite straightforward: It is a small evolutionary step from spraying toner on paper to putting down layers of something more substantial (such as plastic resin) until the layers add up to an object. And yet, by enabling a machine to produce objects of any shape, on the spot and as needed, 3-D printing really is ushering in a new era.
As applications of the technology expand and prices drop, the first big implication is that more goods will be manufactured at or close to their point of purchase or consumption. This might even mean household-level production of some things. (You’ll pay for raw materials and the IP—the software files for any designs you can’t find free on the web.) Short of that, many goods that have relied on the scale efficiencies of large, centralized plants will be produced locally. Even if the per-unit production cost is higher, it will be more than offset by the elimination of shipping and of buffer inventories. Whereas cars today are made by just a few hundred factories around the world, they might one day be made in every metropolitan area. Parts could be made at dealerships and repair shops, and assembly plants could eliminate the need for supply chain management by making components as needed.
Another implication is that goods will be infinitely more customized, because altering them won’t require retooling, only tweaking the instructions in the software. Creativity in meeting individuals’ needs will come to the fore, just as quality control did in the age of rolling out sameness.
These first-order implications will cause businesses all along the supply, manufacturing, and retailing chains to rethink their strategies and operations. And a second-order implication will have even greater impact. As 3-D printing takes hold, the factors that have made China the workshop of the world will lose much of their force.
China has grabbed outsourced-manufacturing contracts from every mature economy by pushing the mass-manufacturing model to its limit. It not only aggregates enough demand to create unprecedented efficiencies of scale but also minimizes a key cost: labor. Chinese government interventions have been pro-producer at every turn, favoring the growth of the country’s manufacturers over the purchasing power and living standards of its consumers.
Under a model of widely distributed, highly flexible, small-scale manufacturing, these daunting advantages become liabilities. No workforce can be paid little enough to make up for the cost of shipping across oceans. And few managers raised in a pro-producer climate have the consumer instincts to compete on customization.
It seems that the United States and other Western countries, almost in spite of themselves, will pull off the old judo technique of exploiting a competitor’s lack of balance and making its own massive weight instrumental in its fall.
China won’t be a loser in the new era; like every nation, it will have a domestic market to serve on a local basis, and its domestic market is huge. And not all products lend themselves to 3-D printing. But China will have to give up on being the mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world. The strategy that has given it such political heft won’t serve it in the future.
The great transfer of wealth and jobs to the East over the past two decades may have seemed a decisive tipping point. But this new technology will change again how the world leans.

China’s plan to survive the 3D-printing revolution: Own the market

If 3D printing will up-end manufacturing as we know it, and if China is home to the world’s largest and most successful manufacturing industry, it ought to stand to reason that if—or when—3D printing eventually goes mainstream, China’s manufacturing will suffer, right? Some people certainly think so.

But even if they are right, they are also far from the only ones to have thought of it. China’s plan to counter this eventuality? To take control of 3D printing. Luo Jun, the head of the Asian Manufacturing Association, a Chinese trade body, said at a 3D printing conference in Beijing last week that he expects revenues from products and services in the industry in China alone to grow to 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) within three years. That’s a third of AMA’s own projections of global revenues of $5 billion by 2016, and just under half the $3.7 billion forecast for 2015 that Wohlers Associates, a research firm, made a year ago. Luo sees the market doubling in size every year after that.

Luo’s confidence stems from an investment made by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology late last year. It formed the “China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance” to fund 10 research centres at a cost of 200 million yuan, which will be matched by local governments. The first of these, in Nanjing, was approved in March. Some 40 companies have joined the alliance.

If China’s 3D printing industry matches Luo’s projections, it will have grown an order of magnitude from 2012. Last year, the US accounted for about 60% of the industry’s global revenues of $2 billion. China claimed a meagre $153 million.

MakerBot Acquired by.... Stratasys?!

Why did I not think that Stratasys would buy MakerBot? Well, with MakerBot’s technology base so heavily influenced by Scott Crump’s original designs for FDM, it’s hardly likely that technology is the driver here. There are a number of existing patents that protect Stratasys’ FDM technology, most visibly surrounding the enclosed and heated chamber, but anyone can see how a Replicator 2 relates to a Mojo for example.

So if not the machine technology, maybe it’s the system behind Thingiverse that caught the newly formed behemoth’s eye? Again, as good as Thingiverse is (and it’s a hoot to browse and a doddle to use) it would surely be within the grasp of a multi-billion dollar corporation to produce an equal if not better platform for sharing digital data? There’s no doubt that if Thingiverse is not the reason, it’s a sweetener to the deal, because with Thingiverse comes….


MakerBot is cool — my trip to New York in April to meet Bre Pettis in the MakerBot Store on Manhattan is evidence enough of that. The machines are cool, Bre is cool, the Store is cool, the marketing/PR/publicity machine behind MakerBot knows it and makes the most of it. Mostly effortlessly to. The MakerBot community comprises everyone from NASA to the local barber, but Thningiverse is populated by designers, engineers, architects and generic tech geeks in their thousands…


Remember how the MakerBot community reacted when Bre et al made the decision to go from totally open source to somewhere between open and closed source? Well, they weren’t happy about it and they were vocal about not being happy about it. They bemoaned Bre as a sell out, as a turn coat, as a scheming capitalist hell-bent on making millions at the expense of the people.* The rest of us thought it a pretty savvy move, and one that ultimately stabilised the company, invited investment and — as Bre put it n New York — kept food on the tables of MakerBot’s 200 employees…


Stratasys, who hinted at something in the consumer space during TCT’s Lead News interview in the last issue, have acquired themselves some technology they invented, some technology they could develop in next to no time, and a community of somewhat volatile users loyal to the ideals that MakerBot stands for — openness, sharing, fun, education? Hmmm…


None of the above matters of course if MakerBot continues to operate independently of Stratasys, led by Bre and reveling in the cool of Brooklyn. Some shares will be exchanged, some geeks will get rich and life will continue as before. The real challenges will be faced if and when Stratasys feels compelled to assimilate the startup into the massed corporate ranks. Though given how both Objet and Stratasys handled their merger, they might just pull that off too.

*And maybe they were right after all!

Are new ultra-cheap 3D printers revolutionary or just toys?

Meet the Replicator 2. She’s top of the line, for home 3D printers, and she’ll cost you $2,200, not including shipping.

Not self-replicating. Yet.MakerBot
That’s about what a good PC cost in the 1980′s. And the parallels between the personal computing revolution and the one in 3D printing are irresistible (they’ve been made countless times in all the usual places). Ok, so these things don’t do much more than print out easily-breakable, rough-hewn plastic tchotchkes, but watch out! Some day we’ll use them to solve the really big problems.
meet the Pirate3D printer, care of a startup in Singapore. It claims that once it launches, it will be the “world’s cheapest” 3D printer, at around $350 apiece.

Pirate3D printer is so named because it’s supposed to help you pirate physical objects.Pirate3D
But wait! World’s cheapest anythings rarely remain that way for long, and Pirate3D’s claim seems extra silly considering that another company, Hong Kong-based MakiBox, says it will be churning out an even cheaper model for as little as $200 by June of 2013. Meanwhile, current record-holder for world’s cheapest 3D printer, Printrbot, will be shipping a new model for just $300.

What’s incredible about these devices is how quickly their prices are falling. Just two years ago, a DIY kit for making your own home 3D printer—with huge amounts of assembly required—was $500. A year later, a comparable but simpler model from Printrbot was $400. And as of this year, the list of cheap 3D printers is longer than ever.
If the trend in 3D printers is like the one seen in PCs over the past thirty years, the features in $2000 3D printers will rapidly make it into the low-end models. Meanwhile, some low-end models will become even cheaper, and as more and more people begin playing with them, an entire ecosystem will emerge.
That said, all of these home models remain merely toys; 3D printers are still most useful in the context of traditional manufacturing.
So why do home 3D printers matter? Just as with the PCs of yore, kids everywhere are going to be playing with these things in their garages, learning non-trivial skills that are hard to pick up as an adult, like how to model things in 3D and how to get creative with the limits of fragile materials and layer-by-layer manufacturing. Those kids will grow up and deliver the manufacturing revolution that is the promise—but not yet the reality—of 3D printing.

China's 3D printing revenues to reach $1.6bn by 2016

The Chinese economy is on track to replace the US as the world's number one financial power - and it is bringing 3D printing with it on its rise to the top of the pyramid.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, China is on course to surpass the US in three years, which means Barack Obama could well be the last President to rule the US as the world's biggest economy.

Interestingly, last week's World 3D Printing Technology Industry Conference in Beijing gleaned further information about the sector's advancement within this very timeframe. reports that Luo Jun, Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Manufacturing Association (AMA) in Beijing, predicted that revenues from China's 3D printing industry would reach 10 billion Yuan ($1.6 billion, £1.05 billion) by 2016. To put this into perspective, the Wohlers Report 2012 stated that the sale of additive manufacturing products and services worldwide will reach $3.7 billion by 2015 - meaning China will have more than one-third of the global market.

China is an early adopter of 3D printing, with decision-makers in Beijing pumping cash into 3D printing and additive manufacturing research and development since 1992. Furthermore, there are well established 3D printing university courses training the next generation of industry leaders up and down the vast Asian superpower.

There has been a significant rise in the number of 3D printer manufacturers in Asia over the past 10 years. Beijing Tiertime is one of the biggest home-grown companies and sells its products in their thousands to the US and Europe, compared to just several hundreds to its domestic market.

Tiertime's machines are attractive because they are more affordable than their West-made counterparts.

Lin Yuting, who works with Tiertime's marketing department, told China Daily: "Our company has nearly 20 years of history. Our products for home use are priced at 9,999 Yuan, while those for industrial applications are sold at 100,000 to 300,000 Yuan a set."

The mean price of the sorts of desktop 3D printer widely available in Europe and the US is around £1,500, which is more expensive than Tiertime's offering, which is equivalent to £1,045 - and the company's industrial machine estimates also undercut Western models.

Commenting on the growing 3D printing manufacturing industry in China, Luo Jun warned that these companies still have a lot of work to do to continue to the rise and rise of the Chinese market.

"What we need to do now is to integrate 3D printing technology with an ongoing industrial transformation and upgrade," he was quoted by as saying.

To help this industrial integration to progress, AMA has plans to build 10 3D printing innovation centres in 10 different cities across China.

This will complement the 3D printing university courses currently being taken at institutions such as Tsinghua University, Xi-an Jiaotong University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology and the South China University of Technology - and will further root the manufacturing technique as a mainstream.

Each new dedicated innovation centre will receive funding of around 20 million Yuan and will include education centres and showrooms where industry leaders can learn more about the technology and its developments.

In March 2013, AMA signed a deal to establish the first of these hubs in the heart of the Nanjin Economic and Technological Development Zone. This centre will house showrooms and education facilities in addition to a top-of-the-range research and development laboratory.

Developments such as these set China up as a formidable future 3D printing world leader and experts around the world have acknowledged the nation's potential to drive the industry forward.

Indeed, revealed that Chairman of the UK's Additive Manufacturing Association Graham Tromans stated that within three to five years, China is in the running to become the home of the world's largest 3D printing market.