As per reports, 500,000 people die in India every year because of an acute shortage of transplantable organs. This is majorly credited to the grossly inadequate organ donation rate in the country, which stands at 0.26 per million people.
On top of that, not every donated organ is viable; there are a lot of factors that need to be considered, for instance, the blood type (donor and recipient blood groups should be the same), cause of donor death (disease-ridden organs cannot be transplanted), and reason for a live person to donate organs (illegal organ trade needs to be checked).
However, the advent of 3D printing in medical applications can potentially alleviate this situation. This is because it can take the healthy cells from the sick person and then use them to create an actual living organ! With extensive R&D, bones, cartilage, corneas, and even complete hearts have been created via 3D printing, although their actual implantation into the human body is still a few years away.
3D printing utilizes machines known as 3D printers to deposit material in layers, on top of each other, until the desired 3D object has taken shape. The technology is also known as additive manufacturing since it adds material, rather than cutting or scraping the required amount from a sheet. The conventional production process is not only time consuming, but also expensive, as the same thing needs to be done again, which also results in high electricity consumption and waste generation.
This is why manufacturers are rapidly shifting to 3D printing to save time, reduce the volume of waste, achieve low energy consumption, and quicken up the process. Moreover, another big advantage of this technology is that it transcends product designing beyond the human capability, as the designs are made by CAD software and then fed to the 3D printer via slicer (or slicing) software.
The 3D printing technology has taken the aerospace and defense industry by storm, as the manufacturing process here has always been complex. Moreover, with the need to create lighter aircraft that burn lower volumes of fuels and yet are safer, major aerospace companies, such as Boeing, Airbus, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, GE, and even NASA, have embraced additive manufacturing.
This is a key reason the consumption of 3D printing filaments, which are essentially thin wires of metals or polymers, is growing. 3D printing is being used in all stages of the aerospace manufacturing process, from design to final manufacturing. Material jetting and stereolithography (SLA) are two widely used additive manufacturing technologies in designing detailed models of aircraft and their components.
Further, in the prototyping stage, the fused deposition modeling (FDM) technique, also known as fused filament modeling (FFM), is commonly used to create components for testing, for instance, full-size landing gear enclosures. Moreover, in the pre-production stage, additive manufacturing is also being used to create the tools that are used in thermoforming and injection-molding processes.
Moreover, as the 3D printers become bigger and capable of extruding larger volumes of materials, they will be used for the final full-scale manufacturing as well. Hence, with the expanding demand for civilian and military aircraft, aerospace companies are validating the usage of this technology in mass production. For instance, in 2018, Airbus had a delivery backlog of 7,000 aircraft, while Boeing was 6,000 aircraft behind.
With conventional subtractive manufacturing methods, this could mean nine years of production! Therefore, already in 2014, Airbus had tested an aircraft with a 3D-printed small titanium bracket, part of the pylon on the wing that holds the engine of the aircraft in place. In the past, several Boeing 707s have fallend from the sky due to the separation of their engines from the wing.
Numerous individual parts of the wing bolted together means a higher chance of separation. This is why 3D printing is being used to consolidate thousands of aircraft parts into one, so that the mechanical linkages can be minimized and the structural integrity enhanced. As a result, GE, one of the largest aerospace engine manufacturers in the world, has started using 3D printing to manufacture the aircraft powerplants.
Its GE9X engine, which has been designed for the Boeing 777X, uses 19 nozzles created via additive manufacturing. Similarly, the technology is being used for the Airbus A320’s LEAP-1A engine by GE, together with CFM International. Moreover, in collaboration with the U.S. Army, GE Aviation has created the 3D-printed Future Affordable Turbine Engine (FATE) engine, which is claimed to be 35% more fuel-efficient than conventional engines.
In the same way, the ITEP engine being designed for the Apache and Black Hawk helicopters offers 25% higher fuel savings than the current engine options. However, GE’s love for additive manufacturing doesn’t stop here and is literally taking the company to the moon. In association with NASA, it has developed, tested, and received the approval for a two-piece rocket injector, which is intended to replace a similar assembly with 163 individual components!
Similarly, Boeing is using it to create the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for the NASA, which is intended to transport astronauts to the ISS! Moreover, the Tubesat-POD (TuPOD) satellite designed by GE using 3D printing had already completed its mission in November 2017. GE is further exploring the use of this technology to print replacement aeronautical parts on Mars! Over at Airbus, its A350 XWB now comes with over 1,000 3D-printed parts.
Apart from aerospace and defense, another key sector that uses filaments for additive manufacturing is general industrial. With the growing production volumes and need to save time and cost, the technology is increasingly being used to produce components, tools, equipment, and prototypes for industrial machinery and production lines.
Additionally, factories now want manufacturing machines customized to their requirements, which is a key aspect 3D printing is helpful in, as it easily creates complex parts. In the same way, the usage of this manufacturing technology and, in turn, of metallic, polymeric, and ceramic filaments, is growing in the automotive industry.
The auto sector now faces the same problems as the general industrial and aerospace and defense sectors: the rising need for customization and substantial delays in vehicle deliveries. Additionally, with so much competition in the auto sector, OEMs are strongly focusing on innovative designs that can not only make the vehicles more attractive to buyers, but also fuel-efficient and stronger.
Moreover, people are becoming increasingly trickier for automotive companies to target, as they now want vehicles that not only perform better but also reflect their personalities. This has spawned the concept of car customization, wherein a lot of OEMs now collaborate with customers to design the vehicle of their dreams and manufacture it via additive manufacturing.
For instance, Skoda allows customers to design their own 3D car model and then delivers a miniature replica of it manufactured by 3D printing. In the same way, the customization fever has taken over the consumer goods sector, with people desiring personalized clothing, footwear, jewelry, and apparel.
There is no limit to how whacky, elegant, or decorative jewelry designs can be, but there is a limit to the level of detailing that can be achieved via traditional production methods. Hence, additive manufacturing is being utilized to create jewelry that allow wearers to stand out in a crowd.
Similarly, everyone’s foot shape is a little different, which impels footwear companies to use 3D printing to design custom-fit shoes. Presently, companies such as Adidas, Reebok, Puma, and Nike are engaged in stiff competition, which is why customized footwear could be a potent weapon in their arsenal to dominate the market.
Hence, with such a wide base for 3D printing across industries, the demand for filaments, powders, liquids, and other forms of materials will continue to burgeon.