3D printing is an innovative way of making, whether you’re a hobbyist with a desktop plastic or resin 3D printer, or a major manufacturer printing large and complex components out of metal and carbon fiber. As we do more with 3D printing, we constantly test and reset its limits, and innovators all over the world are doing amazing things with 3D printing. These are just some of our favorites.
3D Printing for 3D Printing
3D printing can help manufacturers save time, material, and costs from traditional tooling processes. With the speed 3D printing is evolving, this makes 3D printing ideal for, well, 3D printing. That’s what 3D printer manufacturer, ExOne, discovered when they developed their latest metal binder jetting printer.
In order to achieve a sleek aesthetic appearance for the new machine, ExOne had the 18 unique outer panels vacuum formed to tools made with a sand 3D printing technique for a quick turnaround. The sand printed forms were hardened with resin before the metal panels were vacuum formed. This saved the company time and costs from traditional machining and casting processes used for their previous printer models.
Metal 3D Printing
One of the benefits of 3D printing is it’s additive nature that reduces wasted materials. However, many parts and products formed from metal, which presents a challenge for additive manufacturing. That is, until Desktop Metal debuted its Shop System printer, which has the ability to print 700 cubic centimeters per hour, or 70kg of parts per day.
You probably think of 3D printing as a machine arm with a nozzle that builds up a product layer by layer. However, there are a variety of 3D printing processes. The Shop System printer from Desktop Metal uses a binder jetting process, where a liquid binder is deposited selectively to bind powder particles together. The parts are then sintered, where they achieve the final hardness and density. While sintering adds time and cost to the metal printing process, it’s still comparable to traditional metal cutting.
Because the Shop System uses binder jetting, the parts are supported by unbound powder during the printing process, which means there are no additional support structures needed to print and later remove.
3D Printed Lattice Structures
Another benefit of 3D printing is the complexity of structures that can be formed. Researchers are stretching the limits of 3D printing with complex lattice structures.
A lattice structure developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) features micro-architectured trusses that have isotropic material properties. That is, the material is identical and omnidirectional. When tested, the new design outperformed octet truss, which is the current standard in 3D printing lattice structures. The isotropic trusses also showed a perfectly uniform response to force in all directions.
Bone-Like 3D Printed Structures
Our bones can take a lot of stress. This is due to trabeculae, spongy structures in our bones that have vertical plates and horizontal rods that behave like columns and beams. Researchers emulated the structure of trabeculae through 3D printing to improve strength.
They first printed trabeculae structures and found that the printed structures had similar mechanical properties to actual bone. They developed a fully synthetic structure based on the trabeculae, but adjusted the horizontal beam thickness by 30%, which resulted in a 100-fold increase in load-bearing capacity without significantly increasing the weight of the structure. The bone-inspired structure paves the way for larger 3D printed pieces that retain strength and stability without using extra material or adding extra weight.
Lighter, More Efficient Engines in Drones
Weight is a concern for any motorized vehicle as it’s a large factor in engine efficiency and fuel economy. Cobra Aero, a manufacturer of drones, started using their metal 3D printer to reimagine how some of the traditionally casted and machined parts in their drones were made. The result: completely redesigned engine parts that reduce weight and improve efficiency.
Cobra Aero redesigned the engine cylinder with 3D printing to use a lattice-based cooling strategy instead of the original fin-based design. The design is lighter and provides better cooling than the fin design.
They also redesigned the engine’s exhaust from 13 individual machined parts to a single 3D printed part. The part is quieter, smaller, and lighter, weighing 100 grams less than the original. While Cobra Aero manufactures drones, the principles they’re using to reinvision how machined or casted parts as 3D printed parts can pave the way for lighter, more efficient versions of other vehicles.
3D printing is a constantly developing technology that allows for more advanced, complex, and strong parts and structures with a wide variety of materials, like carbon fiber. At PCMI, we use some methodologies of 3D printing with our proprietary carbon fiber part production for lightweight parts at a competitive cost compared to traditionally casted metal components.