3D PRINTING AKA ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING

One evening, while I was sitting in the balcony, I wondered, “What could be a unique trend in engineering & technology, which affected layman significantly and defined the future of manufacturing”. Honestly, I wanted to create something unique for my final semester major project and this thought alone was enough to trigger the adrenaline rush within me. Yet, I wasn’t the one who could settle on conventional projects that students presented for the longest time. But, for that, I knew I had to research a lot and think beyond the traditional manufacturing methods.

With my mind teeming with thoughts and ideas, I headed for dinner and mom exclaimed, “Where are you lost? I am observing since evening, you haven’t been talking to anyone. Is everything alright?”. Dad sat right beside and patting my back he said, “You will come across the uncommon idea in your dream tonight! I hope your search finally ends”. 

As I walked towards my bedroom post dinner, I pondered what dad had said. I must say, I had a bad time putting myself to rest that night but I inexorably succeeded. Unlike most of us who do not remember anything after this except the moment when we first open our eyes, I think I was never so active throughout my life as I were that night!

Guess what? I saw a dream. A dream worth a thousand realities. I saw a dream where I could manufacture complex objects with a touch of finger. It was almost like I got the magic pencil of the Indian television series -“Shaka Laka Boom Boom”, which I suppose most of us enjoyed watching in our childhood. The next morning, I jumped out of my bed in excitement. I was so happy. I saw that a material is joined or solidified with another material being added, under computer control to create a three-dimensional object. “Whoa!! How incredibly genius was that idea”, I thought to myself as I made my bed. I went to my institute with great confidence that day and I talked about this to my mentor. She said that my dream was no less than a reality and that strike me. I desperately opened my laptop and began my exploration. And as the search window opened, to my amazement, I found that this manufacturing technique is in practice and is called “ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING or 3D PRINTING”.

Figure 1 3D printing

According to Wikipedia, The 3D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design (CAD) model, usually by successively adding material layer by layer, which is why it is also called additive manufacturing,[1] unlike conventional machining, casting and forging processes, where material is removed from a stock item (subtractive manufacturing) or poured into a mould and shaped by means of dies, presses and hammers.

Basically, additive manufacturing operates by adding layers of material together to make an object. While traditional manufacturing methods, on the contrary, are subtractive in nature which involves removing parts in the block of material to get the desired shape.

The question arises, why did we need 3D printing or additive manufacturing while we had our traditional manufacturing techniques at service already? 

NEED FOR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING OVER TRADATIONAL MANUFACTURING

 See, the traditional manufacturing methods posed a challenge the production for small businesses with smaller funds to manufacture products.  Also, with traditional manufacturing methods, time between conception and sale were high. These processes are time consuming as goods are produced in bulk quantities. 

Also, additive manufacturing it allows to produce customized and unique complex shapes or products in almost the same cost and hence reduced cost of failure. Another big concern in case of traditional manufacturing is the use of extra materials and unnecessary wastage post production.

Figure 2 3D printing as an innovative and effective manufacturing alternative

AM is the best solution to this drawback of traditional manufacturing as it is incredibly resource ­efficient since the only material consumed is what passes under the laser. Traditional manufacturing techniques require each part of an assembly to be manufactured separately and later assembling them to create full model. However, with a 3D printer we can combine the manufacturing and assembling stages into a single process.

I immediately jotted down all the benefits of 3D printing as:

(1) Can manufacture complex geometries and models with precision

(2) No additional cost for complex manufacturing process 

(3) No or minimum wastage from manufacturing practices 

(4) Easy and quick process 

(5) 3D printers create parts in a completely automated manner, requiring little oversight from an operator.

(6) Personalised products with more power to small businesses

And with this, I got some reasons strong enough to dig in deeper to find out more about “3D printing”, its implications and loopholes where I could determine the future scope. Little did I know that a dream from last night would have such actuality related to it. 

A QUICK WALK THROUGH THE YEARS 

I wanted to know everything about this technology. I found that, 3D-printing was introduced in the 1980s itself. And there is not one but many techniques for implementing 3D printing. Earlier were considered suitable only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes and hence was called “RAPID PROTOTYPING”. Today, 3D printing is the latest technique for manufacturing in the 21st century. On probing further, I found out the earliest breakthroughs of 3D printing. In 1859, a French “photo sculptor” named François Willème demonstrates the world’s first “3D scanning” technology by using 24 cameras to simultaneously photograph subjects from different angles.

And yet again, few years later, in 1892, a patent for a method of creating 3D topographical maps using a layering method was introduced by Joseph E. Blanther and it is very similar to 3D printing.

The real birth of 3D printing came in the year 1980s with invention of photopolymer rapid prototyping system by Dr. Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute. “Huh, finally I got some solid reference of this technique!”. But this system was never commercialised. Let’s try again, in 1987 3D Systems began the commercialisation of the plastic processing technique known as Stereolithography Apparatus (SLA). By this technique, layer by layer printing using laser selectively causing chains of molecules to link together, forming polymers. With this, world’s first commercial 3D printing system, the SLA-1 was introduced. 

Eventually, a series of inventions produced wide variety of techniques and prototyping systems. To name a few, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) in 1987, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) in 1989 and 3D medical bioprinting in 1999.This technique was used to design an artificial bladder by taking a CT scan of the patient’s bladder and then printing a biodegradable scaffold using the information. Cells grown using a tissue sample from the patient’s bladder are then layered onto the scaffold, before it is transplanted and yields successful surgery as a result. In 2004, the RepRap project, an open-source project was proposed to build a 3D printer that can print most of its own components for replication and evolution and the design of the first RepRap 3D printer called DARWIN was released in March 2007.  2008 brought with it the first usable 3D printed prosthetic leg which didn’t require any additional assembly later on. 

As I kept searching, I realised that the first SLS printers were commercially viable not before 2006 and this leap made a huge difference in advancement. I wanted to see if this leap was repeated further in the manufacturing trends and what I found was indeed, gratifying and happening. In 2008, a 3D printing service similar to RepRap was launched in Netherlands. It was called Shapeways and let users submit their own 3D files, which the company then 3D printed and shipped back to the sender. Shapeways made 3D printing accessible to non0technical layman crows like artists, architects and other creative people and hence a social following. 

Then in 2009, MakerBot brought 3D orienting into the mainstream yet again by introducing open-source D.I.Y. kits for people who want to build their own 3D printers or 3D printed products. 

WOAH…. now this is one huge milestone, I thought! Even more amazing was the fact that over 100,000 D.I.Y kits have been sold by them already. “So, there are many more who think like me and are actually living my dream”, I smiled as I thought.  

Development of 3D plane marked the significant use and success of 3D printing in large scale applications. I feel so proud of the engineers at the U.K.’s University of Southampton who have successfully marked a historical milestone and amazed people by designing world’s first unmanned 3D-printed aircraft. And they have satisfied a significant parameter in the language of inventions and research, the “total cost “, which for this particular project comes in at under $7,000. 

Great, right?? If whether you are an expert or a future technocrat, I think you can understand this analogy between useful invention/research and cost. Because, ultimate aim to achieve the best results and social welfare at a minimum cost of project and product. 

I strongly suggest you to visit the given link to see this amazing invention- https://youtu.be/nxA-jjKkqAQ

Whether it is robotic systems that can 3D print houses (refer to the linkhttps://youtu.be/8zt_3Gs1ksg), 3D printers to lave earth’s confine, or breakthroughs involving prosthetics, 3D printing is reaching its biggest audience with growing innovation and applications.

Figure 3 A 3D printed building in Dubai, a milestone for the Dubai project

APPLICATIONS OF ADDITIVE MANUFACTURIING 

3D printing or Additive Manufacturing has been used in manufacturing, medical, industry and sociocultural sectors and has emerged as a commercial technology over the years. The applications vary from humanitarian and development sector to produce a range of medical items, prosthetics, spares and repairs. This might sound unbelievable but this technology has affected our basic food, shelter and clothing too. Our food and clothing industry have witnessed a huge shift in manufacturing practices to generate best products with efficiency. To quote an example, NASA is looking into the technology in order to create 3D printed food to limit food waste and to make food that are designed to fit an astronaut’s dietary needs. 

Figure 4 Creative 3D printed sugar cubes just need sugar, food dye and 3D printing technique

Similarly, in the fashion industry companies are experimenting with 3D print designing for customised articles. An intelligent example includes Nike’s Vapor Laser Talon football shoe for players of football team of America and New Balance custom-fit shoes for athletes. 

Figure 5 3D printed shoe processing

On-demand customization of glasses is possible with rapid prototyping to print customised eye-wear with an ease of fit and styling. 

Today, you can literally use the software and materials to create an awesome customized printed design for DIYs and then sew it on to an existing piece of clothing. How incredible is that, right??

Figure 6 Customized fabric establishments using 3D printing

You can learn more about this. Click on https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/3d-systems-textiles-fashion-out-of-the-box-into-the-cube-3d-printer-57075/ and dive into the amazing world of fashion technology using 3D printing. 

Not only this, AM has been used excessively to produce large, custom housings with seamless fits and integration of enclosure connections to deliver custom housings to people. 

Figure 7A 3D selfie scale printed using gypsum-based printing

Figure 8 3D printed enamelled pottery

A recent innovation called the 3D printed mountain bike has won hearts of professionals and bikers. For riders with deep pockets, customised frames provide the perfect match to both their physique and their riding style with the new Robot Bike Co R160 titanium & carbon bespoke MTB frame. This bike was designed to minimise production costs and maximise the performance benefits using an additive manufacturing process.

Figure 9 Robot bike Co R160

Another mind-blowing application is 3D printed songs! So, Reify has created software that can listen to your music and create beautiful sculptures from the strange representation of your song just like the one you see in the Windows media player. 

Figure 10 A 3D scripture from a song

You can visit the website – https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/04/turn-songs-into-3d-printed-sculptures-you-can-listen-to-with-reify/ for more information and interesting facts.

I thought AM used for transplantation was the only success since the past (as mentioned in the text before), but today, this transformative technology has also been used to generate a 3D printed none for an orthopaedic spine surgery in China.  

Figure 11 2D printed vertebra as an implant for an orthopaedic spine surgery in China

This vertebra replacement is porous and hence a bine can grow through it naturally. Do visit the link – https://www.businessinsider.in/science/beijing-scientists-replace-a-boys-vertebra-with-a-3d-printed-bone-the-first-surgery-of-its-kind/articleshow/41111183.cms especially those who wish to research and progress in biomedical applications using this amazing technology. 

By now, I knew that my dream was a reality and that too in all aspects of life. I realised that more research and innovation is required to take this existing technique to the next level by either designing a new technology in the wide domain of additive manufacturing or by thinking ahead of it. The most important task, I feel as a responsible and young researcher is to deliver the implications of this technology to all those who are willing to learn and contribute in the fast-paced development.            

Figure 12 3D printed covers for prosthetics to inject some style into their look

Tough there are uncountable examples and applications of 3D printing these days and I have thrown light on some of them, I suggest you to dig in deeper and satisfy your intuitive curiosity for this wide field. I would just end this write-up, but with the last and my favourite application- 

Figure 13 3D printing pen that allows you to draw in the air

Can you believe this? I am asking because I couldn’t believe this application and you have to agree, my “Shaka Laka Boom Boom” reference must be making sense for you now! I ran to my father and told him about the dream ands this finding, and he too was absolutely amazed. That day I realised that my search was over and my dad’s suggestion bore me the fruit of wisdom. 

I found this application the most relevant to my expectations (hahaa)! By using a filament that hardens quickly, this pen literally allows you to just draw in the air and it keeps its shape as you go. I think you should definitely dive in for more adventure. 

The moral of the story is absolutely beautiful. My dream and my curiosity to explore that dream introduced me to the innovative world and discover these amazing applications of this fascinating technology. This is a wake-up call for all you readers to dream big, understand latest technologies and advancements and grow as holistic and responsible researchers, technocrats and developers.