3D printing has been around for decades, yet it’s impact to date has been nowhere near as widespread or as world-changing as that of the internet. So, can we still describe it as revolutionary? Absolutely, says Wilfried Vancraen, CEO of Materialise.
The pace at which 3D printing is affecting the world around us may be slow, but its capabilities and applications certainly fall under the banner of revolutionary.
“It may be slow, but it’s helping to save the lives of newborn babies. It may be slow, but it’s helping to improve the lives of millions of people,” said Vancraen. “3D printing, or additive manufacturing, allows us to not only create different things, but better. It offers design freedom, shorter time-to-market and opportunities to strip weight out of components or end-products.”
At the same time, Vancraen acknowledged that 3D printing was expensive, difficult to use, complicated and hugely over-hyped – or at least, that had been the case historically. However, it’s not just the actual printing, he added. The majority of the work, some 90%, is in the scanning, modelling and simulation data which help to create a superior customer outcome.
According to Vancraen, 3D printing is not just one aspect of digital manufacturing, but the enabler – from CAD file and design optimisation, to file preparation, machine communication and the finished part.
“We live and breathe Industry 4.0,” he noted. “Materialise e-Stage for Metal software, for example, automatically generates supports for metal 3D printing using artificial intelligence.” [PHOTO ABOVE]
The global 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing market
The market has seen double-digit annual growth for 20 of the past 29 years, and though it represents $7.3bn, that’s currently just 0.06% of all manufacturing.
However, if it grows to capture just 5% of that, it would become a $640bn industry.
“3D printing never directly replaces a product or component,” Vancraen said. “To be successful, you have to re-engineer that product or even the whole subsystem in order to gain the greatest benefit.”
Real-world use cases:
PHOTO BELOW: Airbus – panels for overhead storage, 15% lighter and drastically faster time-to-market than conventional manufacturing –
PHOTO BELOW: RapidFiT – the next generation of automotive tooling, up to 90% lighter, saving time and cost at each stage of production, replacing entire toolkits with a modular approach –
PHOTO BELOW: Philips Lighting – production tools 3D-printed in metal, cost savings of around €89,000 a year in operational benefits –
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