December 22, 2013


3D printing making museum artifacts more accessible (Natalie Morris,  Dec. 17, 2013 , State Journal-Register)

Paleontologist Chris Widga wouldn't dream of letting visitors man-handle the remains of a 29,000-year-old saber-toothed cat that the Illinois State Museum staff unearthed in a Minnesota cave in 2007.

But cutting-edge technology of 3D printing is beginning to remove the "Do Not Touch" barrier formerly necessary to protect priceless pieces from the past.

"We've passed the printed skull around to school kids in ways you just can't do with an artifact," said Widga, an associate curator of geology in the museum's research and collections center.

"That opens doors, ways of thinking."

3D printing technology is being touted as a game changer for many disciplines, although its presence is just beginning to emerge in Springfield.

"This technology isn't ready for prime-time yet," said Joseph Deken, director of the not-for-profit New Blankets Inc., which is dedicated to making technology like 3D printing accessible to the masses. "But 3D printing is a big thing."

Both GE and Rolls Royce Are To Use 3D Printing To Make Jet Engines And Violate Engineering's Prime Commandment (Tim Worstall, Forbes)

There is an old and important saying in engineering: fast, better, cheaper. The point being that you can only ever have two out of the three. But in this pair of tales about how both GE and Rolls Royce are to be using 3D printing in order to produce their respective jet engines we've an interesting violation of that basic engineering commandment.

Here's the GE story:

General Electric GE +0.15% (GE), on the hunt for ways to build more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for its new Leap jet engines, is making a big investment in 3D printing. Usually the nozzles are assembled from 20 different parts. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing can create the units in one metal piece, through a successive layering of materials. The process is more efficient and can be used to create designs that can't be made using traditional techniques, GE says. The finished product is stronger and lighter than those made on the assembly line and can withstand the extreme temperatures (up to 2,400F) inside an engine.

This is 3D printing using metals of course, not the plastics that most of the home and small business printers are currently using. But do note that they are claiming that the new process is both more efficient (that is, cheaper) and also better, in that they can create more complex parts this way. And then there's the Rolls Royce side of the story:

Rolls-Royce is looking to use 3D printers to make lighter components for its aircraft engines, the company's head of technology strategy has said.

Henner Wapenhans said the new technology could allow the manufacturer to produce parts more quickly, slashing lead times, the Financial Times reported.

"3D printing opens up new possibilities, new design space," Dr Wapenhans said. "Through the 3D printing process, you're not constrained [by] having to get a tool in to create a shape. You can create any shape you like. 

3D printing: not yet a new industrial revolution, but its impact will be huge (Jim Chalmers, 10 December 201, The Guardian)

When music was a physical item - a vinyl record, a tape or a CD - ownership could be verified and quality could be assured. In the last decade, music progressively morphed into little more than a file which can be easily shared and edited. Now, the vast and rapid technological advances being catalysed by three dimensional printing could see this phenomenon repeated for a much wider range of products.

The 3D printing industry is predicted to be worth over $8bn globally by 2020. Physical items, mass produced and bought in outlet stores, will become replicable and editable by anyone with knowledge of computer-aided drawing and access to a 3D printer. 

Already, 3D printing technology is being used to manufacture a wide array of items - from auto parts and prototypes to human skin and organs. In a world where mass-manufacturing takes place on scales never seen before, 3D printing is starting to spell big changes for the way the world thinks about production. This inevitably means we will face new frontiers in global trade as well.

The engineering behind the 3-D printing revolution (Cecile J. Gonzalez, 12/04/13, Science X)

While 3-D pens and printers are enjoyed by students, artists and makers, innovative American companies are using similar equipment to manufacture aerospace, automotive and medical technologies. The number of technologies customized and created using additive manufacturing processes is growing each year.

But understanding how the processes work takes more than prying open your 3-D pen.

Many of the foundational techniques for additive manufacturing, briefly described below, were discovered and patented in the 1980s. The development of three of these methods--selective laser sintering, sheet lamination and 3-D printing--had critical support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Additive manufacturing is a way of making 3-D objects by building up material, layer upon layer, with the guidance of a digital design. The processes are engineered to use material more efficiently, give designs more flexibility and produce objects more precisely. Above all, they make things quickly.

"Early research led to making prototypes to determine the form and fit of the parts in an assembly, such as an engine," said Kesh Narayanan, deputy assistant director for NSF's Engineering Directorate. "Large-scale manufacturing of parts, especially critical components, at attractive cost is the ongoing challenge for broader use of additive manufacturing."

More and more companies are taking on the challenge of commercializing these foundational technologies, including the very first one, stereolithography.

How the Innovation Economy is Turning Makers Into Manufacturers (Chris Anderson, Popular Mechanics)

True, none of these are designed for mass production; they're small and somewhat limited in the materials they can use. But you'd be surprised at how much of the manufacturing process can be done at this scale. 

Take the injection molding of plastic parts. This is traditionally an expensive and time-consuming process for any company making hardware. After a part has been designed in CAD and prototyped on a 3D printer, it's typically sent to specialists to be turned into a mold, and then to an injection-molding factory that makes the final parts. That's a process that can cost at least $10,000 and take more than two months--just to get ready to start actually manufacturing anything. 

For complex parts and large runs, that's still the right way to do it. But for simple components that will be made in batches of up to a few thousand, the whole process can now be done with desktop tools. Once you have the part itself designed, you can use plug-ins for CAD tools to generate a design for your mold, and then carve it out of aluminum on a three-axis desktop CNC mill. That mold can then be used with a desktop handpressed injection-molding machine that's no larger than a small drill press. 

It's not hard to make six parts a minute, or 360 parts an hour. Several thousand can be produced in a few days by someone with no special skills at a cost of a few hundred dollars, as little as 1 to 2 percent of what professional production would cost. More important, the timeline is days, not months--you can make the parts on demand. The time savings alone can make this a game changer for small, fast-moving companies. 

These are all examples of desktop manufacturing, which is the enabling technology trend for the maker movement. Although the manufacturing capability is sometimes exaggerated (desktop prototyping is usually closer to the truth with 3D printers), what's important about this democratization trend is that it taps the huge pool of talent, energy, and creativity outside the world of trained professionals. 

Just like the PCs of the 1980s (which were more feeble than the professional computers of the time but available to far more people) and the Internet of the 1990s (which was slow and limited at the start but open to all), what desktop manufacturing tools lack in power, they more than make up for in accessibility. And they're getting better and cheaper even faster than the computing and communications technologies of the past two generations did--in part because they are built on the PC and the Web, and have inherited innovation models such as online content sharing that those technologies created. 

Posted by at December 22, 2013 9:56 AM

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