Additive Manufacturing Vital to Sector’s Future
A look inside the build bay of the Fortus 900 3D Printer Production System. The Fortus offers prototyping, modeling and direct digital manufacturing in build sizes up to 36″ x 24″ x 36″ for form, fit and function assessments as well as limited-rate production of end-use parts. Image courtesy of Robert C. Byrd Institute
By Rachel Duran
Once manufacturers utilize additive manufacturing tools for production processes, they can’t imagine going back to other methods. Evolving from the early days of stereolithography in the 1980s to polymer jetting and binder jetting, additive manufacturing processes assist companies in remaining competitive in a global economy. These capabilities also open the door for the return of manufacturing processes to America.
According to AMazing, www.additivemanufacturing.com, additive manufacturing technologies “build 3-D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of material, whether the material is plastic, metal, concrete or one day…human tissue.” AMazing also says “additive manufacturing encompasses many technologies including subsets like 3-D printing, rapid prototyping, direct digital manufacturing, layered manufacturing and additive fabrication.”
The use of these technologies by the manufacturing sector is on the rise. For example, in a forecast of 3-D printer demand worldwide, released in September 2013 by Gartner Inc., the market will grow from $288 million to more than $5.7 billion by 2017.
Companies of all sizes, as well as startups and entrepreneurs, are making use of additive manufacturing tools to produce components for industries such as aerospace, automotive and medical devices. For example, GE Aviation is currently installing 3-D printing equipment at its $50 million investment project in Auburn, Ala., to produce a fuel nozzle for the LEAP jet engine. The company will also manufacture precision, super-alloy machined parts for jets.
German-based company, citim AM, which produces metal parts though additive manufacturing processes, held an open house in October in Kennesaw, Ga. The company offers core competencies in design, additive manufacturing, component machining, and assembling, including measurement and documentation. The Kennesaw operation features a modern shop-floor with the latest laser melting machinery for direct manufacturing of metal components for the American market.
In Maryland, by conducting pretests for a chemical reconnaissance explosives screening set for use by the military with a rapid injection tooling “where we 3-D printed the injection tool, we saved a lot of money if we had gotten the geometry wrong,” says Brad Ruprecht, a technician in the additive manufacturing branch at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md.
The pretest took a little extra time with the 3-D printed tool but the samples allowed developers to prove out geometries before they cut metal tooling to conduct mass production runs.
The screening set is a pocket-sized colorimetric technology used to detect homemade precursors used in making explosives, such as urea, nitrates and more. The kit doesn’t require batteries, it is all chemical based, and is readily injection molded, Ruprecht says. “It was developed here and went through many iterations through the lab here through our machines.”
When it comes to uses by entrepreneurs, in West Virginia, an individual designed and 3-D printed components for use in products related to the high voltage energy business on machinery based at Marshall University in Huntington. He found it was less expensive to design and 3-D print the components than traditional methods. He is now mass producing the components, and has purchased his own 3-D printer after learning the ropes of the technology at the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing at Marshall University. “He actually added two employees on the design side,” says Charlotte Weber, director and CEO, RCBI.
Benefits Close the Gaps; Foster Collaborations
Additive processes allow companies to solve production challenges, saving money in the testing and prototyping stages, for example. Companies can test and tweak designs by using a full-sized component. “Not one process will be the magic bullet that solves every design or engineering problem that you have,” Ruprecht says. “Some processes have better mechanical properties or less support structure. There was a need for each process along the line as we [Edgewood] were building this capacity.”
There are several additive organizations at APG, including Edgewood. “We are the most comprehensive at APG as far as the number of processes,” Ruprecht says. Officials at facilities such as Edgewood and RCBI work with entrepreneurs, introducing them to the additive manufacturing design process, its costs, and so on. RCBI provides services in 17 states, in addition to West Virginia.
Weber says training programs range from one day to week-long courses to curriculum that ties in with the local community college. “The most important part of this is that the Advanced Manufacturing Tech Center at RCBI provides hand-on training for additive manufacturing processes,” she says.
“We also encourage individuals to work with other organizations in our state, such as small business centers to work on business plans so they can invest in the technology and set up businesses in our state,” Weber says.
“A lot of businesses have heard about additive manufacturing,” Ruprecht says. “They know there are benefits but haven’t seen them first hand.” Before working for the Army at the APG, Ruprecht worked in the private sector and witnessed how valuable a tool additive manufacturing processes are to companies. “At APG we help manufacturers become accustomed to the processes,” he says. “We have a broad capability here.”
Ruprecht adds the hope is that entrepreneurs will go out and purchase equipment for themselves to create skilled jobs. “If they bring the activity in house after they come here for guidance, they will possibly add jobs to their payroll,” he says. “It saves them money because they learn what machines are the best for their shop floors.”
The majority of additive manufacturing activities at Edgewood are military related. Private industry and individuals access the machinery and expertise through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). “We are not here to compete with industry; we are here to partner with industry and allow them to leverage the capabilities here at Edgewood,” says Ron Pojunas, acting associate director, joint and interagency, engineering directorate, within the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center. “We work on a non-interruptive basis, so if a machine is tied up by the Army, private companies will wait.”
A recent APG CRADA is with the Northeast Maryland Additive Manufacturing Authority, which was created by the state’s legislature. The partnership with the authority will include members from education, government agencies and private industry in regard to advancing the state’s additive manufacturing cluster.
The authority will also be able to tap into the expertise of the Army Research Lab. “We will have joint work statements under this overarching CRADA,” Pojunas says. “We have had successful models and long-standing relationships with other outfits that do additive manufacturing with the lab at Edgewood.” He expects more relationships will be formed in the future.
“It is imperative that we remain at the forefront of innovation and emerging technologies,” Weber says in regard to the role additive manufacturing will play in the future of the manufacturing sector. “We must remain vigilant on expanding our workforce, and remain dedicated to training the workforce. And I think with 3-D printing, the design aspect, the importance on strengthening our workforce in 3-D printing will be an integral part of our future. It is not the same way you train for metal manufacturing or composite manufacturing.”
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