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3D Printing is an additive manufacturing process allowing for the production of three-dimensional solid objects based on digital blueprints. As an additive manufacturing process, 3D printing allows for the creation of objects by laying down layers of a specific material until the final product has been created. This is contrary to traditional subtractive methods in which a piece of material would be cut away until the final product is left as a result.

Additive manufacturing has several benefits in comparison with traditional/subtractive  manufacturing technologies. Here are a few examples:

  • Less material waste: only the material needed to produce the product is being used rather than removing excess material which is not needed in the final component.

  • Complex designs: by creating new objects from the ground-up through 3D printing, more intricate designs can be created compared to traditional methods, giving the user more versatility in the creation of new components or products.

  • Lighter products: when 3D Printing, it is possible to create structures which are lighter by using less material, while at the same time retaining component strength due to the possibility to reinforce structures from the inside. This would previously not have been possible through subtractive manufacturing.

  • Quicker time to market through rapid prototyping: 3D Printing allows for the design, from first idea to 3D model to printed prototype in less time than was previously possible. This also means that further prototyping and the production of new iterations can be faster and cheaper as there is no longer the need to work from molds or having high material costs for each new version of a product.

  • Product strength for certain materials: when working with plastics or soft materials, products can be designed to be more resilient, durable and reliable.

  • Hybrid manufacturing: Soft and hard materials can be printed in one go – no need for several production steps to get to your final product.

Additive manufacturing has some drawbacks in comparison with traditional manufacturing methods. Here are a few examples.

  • Less benefits from economies of scale as traditional injection molding. This traditional technique has a large start-up cost, but it will become cheaper the more copies you produce. Therefore, injection molding is much more efficient when you want to produce a large number of identical products.
  • High production lead times. Most AM technologies are therefore not yet advanced enough to be suited for large scale production.
  • Most metal products do not have the same integrity in terms of strength and durability as products made with a subtractive manufacturing method. The metal object has structurally weak points making them vulnerable to heavy weights and extreme conditions. Therefore, 3D printed metal parts are still mainly used for prototyping instead of final products. Developments in post-processing techniques contribute to lower this vulnerability.
  • A 3D printer is limited to a certain product dimensions. When you want to print a larger product with the same machine, the product must be printed in smaller parts and joined together.
  • Most 3D printed products do not have the same surface quality as products made CNC-machining or subtractive manufacturing. They have a rough surface due to the layers. Post-processing techniques are required in order to achieve a higher quality of the surface.
  • The 3D printing industry is still a relatively young industry. Therefore, the competition and the availability of solutions is not the same as for traditional manufacturing methods. Materials, printers and software are still very expensive. But the industry is developing rapidly, and the competition is increasing which will lead to the decrease of prices.

The costs op 3D printing highly depends on your needs and your own expertise. If you have the option to do e.g. in-house 3D modelling, this would decrease your initiation costs. Typically you need to be aware of the following costs associated with AM technologies:

  • Software
  • 3D Printers
  • Nozzles
  • Materials
  • Training of engineers/staff
  • Time required

When you want to produce mass-volume products, traditional or subtractive manufacturing methods are still more efficient than additive manufacturing. But, the industry is developing with a fast pace and the landscape is growing in diversity. With new companies joining the different fields, a healthy competition arises and companies are pushed to keep focusing on innovation and development. This will naturally leed to lower prices.   

EU Conformity assessment procedures for 3D printing and 3D printed products to be used in a medical context for COVID-19

Products to be used in a medical context always have to respect strict conditions. This also applies to 3D printed products. And it is as valid in Covid-19 times. In order to assist manufacturers in ramping up production of essential medical equipment, the European Commission has published this guidance on conformity assessment procedures for 3D printing and 3D printed products for medical use in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The document aims to detail the applicable EU legal frameworks for those products and sets out examples of technical standards which manufacturers may use in order to place compliant products on the EU market.

There are many different types of 3D printing and with the growth of the 3D printing industry, even more technologies will arise. Each type is based on the principal of building an object layer per layer, but the technology on how to do is may differ. On this platform a distinction is made between seven main categories. Each category consists of several subcategories.

  • Material Extrusion: a process in which material is selectively dispensed through a nozzle. Subcategories are among others: Fused Deposition Melting, Fused Filament Fabrication, FlashFuse, Continuous Filament Fabrication.
  • Material Jetting: a process in which droplets of material are jetted onto a build platform and solidify to form a layer. Subcategories are among others: PolyJet, Material Jetting Process, Solidscape Process.
  • Binder Jetting: a process in which a binder material is deposited on top of powder material and serves as an adhesive between the layers. Subcategories are among others: Color Jet Printing, Full Sinter Binder Jetting, Binder Jetting with Metal Infiltration, Nanoparticle Jetting, Multi Jet Fusion.
  • Sheet Lamination: a process in which a sheet of material is bounded to the other layers through welding or adhesive. Subcategories are among others: Laminated Object Manufacturing, Selective Deposition Lamination, Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing.
  • VAT Photopolymerization: a process in which a resin is cured by ultraviolet light to form a layer. Subcategories are among others: Stereolithography, Digital Light Processing, Continuous Digital Light Processing, Selectively Spin, Scan and Photocure; Digital Light Synthesis, Low Force Stereolithography, Programmable Photopolymerization, DLP MovingLight Technology.
  • Powder Bed Fusion: a process in which material in the form of powder is fused together using a laser or electron beam. Subcategories are among others: Selective Laser Sintering, Electron Beam Melting, Multi Jet Fusion, Direct Metal Laser Sintering, Selective Laser Melting, Direct Metal Printing, Selective Heat Sintering, Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion Direct Metal Laser Melting.
  • Direct energy deposition: a process in which material is deposited on top of an existing object by a nozzle and melted using a laser, electron beam or plasma arc. The material will solidify to form a layer. Subcategories are among others: Laser Engineered Net Shaping, Direct Metal Deposition, Electron Beam DED.

The cost and availability of materials for additive manufacturing is still a challenge for the industry. But, with new players entering the market, more solutions become available. On this platform the following materials are listed.

  • Polymer thermoset
  • Polymer thermoplastic
  • Ferrous metals
  • Non-ferrous metals
  • Industrial ceramics
  • Structural ceramics
  • Bio-materials
  • Hydrogels
  • Natural polymers
  • Food
  • Composites

The size of components that you want to print, depends on the type of printer that you will use. Desktop 3D printers have for example a building volume of around 300 mm x 300 mm x 300 mm. Concrete 3D printers on the other hand can have a building volume of around 30 000 mm x 30 000 mm x 30 000 mm. On this platform a distinction is made between the following categories.

  • 0 - 300 mm
  • 300 - 500 mm
  • 500 - 1000 mm 
  • 1000 - 2500 mm
  • > 2500 mm

In order to print a 3D printed object you can make use of the follwing types of software.

  • CAD: Computer Aided Design: software that helps you design your product.
  • CAM: Computer Aided Manufacturing: software that helps you manufacture your product.
  • CAE: Computer Aided Engineering: software that helps you with engineering analysis tasks.
  • Simulation: software that performs virtual simulations of different conditions such as weather conditions to test the integrity of the product.
  • 3D Slicer: software that translates 3D models into instructions the printer understands.
  • STL repair tools: software that repairs problems in your 3D model.
  • Reverse engineering: software that is used to create a 3D virtual model of an existing physical part.
  • Print management: software that helps you manage the different processes from design to print.
  • Quality assurance and control: software that is used to prevent mistakes and defects throughout the entire manufacturing process.
  • Security & IP: software that helps you to manage security and IP issues.

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