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19 January 2012

3D Printing In The News

My four page article, uncovering some of the most innovative and intriguing 3D printing news stores of 2011, is published in this week's Micro Mart magazine (issue 1192).

The wide-ranging list of applications includes architect's models, designs in chocolate, nylon bicycles, a UAV plane, and a collection of pioneering bio-engineering successes - such as printed blood vessels. Plus there's a look at some of the latest desktop 3D printing hardware and software for the DIY enthusiast.

Here's a couple of extracts from the article:

The eminent Radio 4 In Business programme presenter Peter Day covered the rise of 3D printing in manufacturing (goo.gl/XTxIr). It contrasted the difference between old-fashioned 'subtractive engineering' and the new Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) approach, which is based on 3D printing technology.

Using traditional subtractive methods rough blocks of raw material are moulded, machined and finished. It requires factory space, expensive tooling and can be a time consuming process. Invariably, much of the original material is discarded to create the final product.

An ALM process requires far less material. It builds up the final shape in a single process, fabricating a multitude of individual layers in a precise, computer-controlled pattern. The raw material can be metallic, ceramic or plastic powder, which is fused together by a precisely focussed laser in the printhead. The finished artefact is retrieved from the unfused powder, rather like pulling a child's toy from a sand pit.

March 2011 saw a news story on 'printed' bicycles from EADS, an organisation better known as owner of hi-tech manufacturing companies such as Airbus aircraft and Astrium satellites.

Called the 'AirBike' (because Airbus originally developed this technology) it's constructed in a factory next to the Airbus site at Filton. EADS use an ALM process similar to the one highlighted by Peter Day's programme. The print materials they use are powders based on metals such as titanium, stainless steel or aluminium, along with nylon and carbon-reinforced plastics, which are all manipulated at the molecular level.

To demonstrate their engineering prowess the complete cycle is fabricated in a single step operation. A dramatic process where a complete, fully operational bike is fused together within the powder - wheels, bearings, axle, saddle and all. The result is a cycle that's around 65% lighter than a traditionally manufactured alternative, yet just as strong. And one that only uses around one-tenth of the materials normally required.

Download the free Micro Mart iPad/iPhone app and purchase the magazine for only £1.49.

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