Part 2: The Material
Another year down and 3D printing is continuing to deliver solutions and growth with no intent on stopping. In Part 1 we covered some technologies in the printer on the market for 3D printing. For Part 2, we look to the present and future of materials. While 3D printing will have gradual disruption in multiple markets, there won’t be a 3D printing boom in 2019. Still, as more discover the capabilities of this innovation, it looks like growth will accelerate.
HP made headlines again in 2018 by partnering with GKN Powder Metallurgy, which has been leading research and design in the PM market for decades. GKN is a strong partner not only for its design experience, enabling it to address which parts work best with this process, but for its ability to provide a streamlined supply chain of powder metals.
It is no secret there is value in supply chain, and if you want to grow powder bed processes, partnering with one of the world’s largest suppliers of powdered metals is smart. However, GKN has gone a step further. On top of having the resources to produce custom batches for companies, the company has started producing a series of high-productivity powders. This positions GKN ahead of the curve for when powder bed processes grow.
It isn’t just binder jet processes that will need powder, either. The three most used metal processes are powder bed. The only popular metal process that doesn’t use powder is the wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM). While metal powder and wire will inevitably grow in 2019, the technology will probably not see anything revolutionary. Powder-producing companies are ready for the extra bump in the market from 3D printing. In addition, while custom metallurgy will benefit some applications, the bigger successes in the additive manufacturing will be for the companies that have the ability to move deeper into prototyping and progress further into using AM for production.
At RAPID 2018, Stratasys previewed a new carbon fiber printer that reduces the barrier with an industrial quality system. The printer, Fortus 380 CFE, began shipping last year; it is being offered at $70,000.
For both Indy and NASCAR circuits, Team Penske uses Stratasys FDM and carbon-fiber-filled Nylon 12 for strong, lightweight parts.
Recently, composite materials have seen a year-over-year market growth between 8 to 12%. Carbon fiber composite applications and carbon fiber reinforced polymers are considered clean energy technologies by the U.S. Department of Energy because they enable light-weighting, which reduces energy consumption. It’s estimated that each 10% reduction in vehicle mass drives a 6 to 8% increase in fuel economy. Markforged hasn’t had much competition with its carbon fiber printer, and now with Stratasys launching its own, it will be interesting to watch what happens as 3D printing accelerates the carbon fiber market in 2019.
What might represent a shift in the 3D printing market is in materials. The largest produced material on the planet is concrete, and it’s not known to be used in small, complex parts. Concrete doesn’t seem to fit the 3D printing mold. However, by removing the mold (figuratively and literally), designs can achieve unique properties of cement-based materials that were not possible before.
New designs allow 3D-printed cement paste elements to behave differently, such as like a spring. (Credit: Purdue University Concrete 3D Printing Team video/Mohamadreza Moini)
Jeffrey Youngblood, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue, has—along with other Purdue researchers—3D printed a cement paste, a key ingredient of the concrete and mortar used to build various elements of infrastructure, and one that gets tougher under pressure like the shells of arthropods such as lobsters and beetles. The technique could eventually contribute to more resilient structures during natural disasters.
As the most used material on the planet, any work to innovate concrete will stand to make a huge change. New Zealand, following a five-year national audit on the country’s infrastructure, is undergoing the biggest infrastructure build in the nation’s history. Estimated to take about 10 years, this project will involve a lot of concrete. If technology like Purdue’s new concrete paste could accelerate, or even reduce, the amount of material needed, it could have a great impact on the overall project and infrastructure all over the world.
A construction team pours the concrete at the bottom of future rail tunnels, which are part of New Zealand’s massive infrastructure plan. Work started on Dec. 21, 2015. It’s taken the workers approximately 501,000 hours to get to this point. So far, 30,000 cubic meters of soil and rock have been removed and filled up a double trailer-truck 1,866 times.
Team the research done on concrete with work by scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) who have developed a technology where two robots work in unison to 3D print a concrete structure; we might have a whole new way of looking at concrete. This dual-robot method of concurrent 3D printing, known as swarm printing, paves the way for a team of mobile robots to print even bigger structures in the future. While we will probably not see any major advancement in 2019, the groundwork being laid in the next year might change the skylines and infrastructure of the future. It’s projected that by 2030, nearly a quarter of Dubai’s buildings will be 3D printed.
Wearables are a large market and 3D printing is already been used to produce wearable medical devices. 3D-printed advanced medical wearables are still too costly to see mass production or mass advancements in the coming year. However, there will be continued growth in prosthetics, and perhaps even more growth in biological model and bioprinting.
Stratasys released BioMimics 3D last year, which aims to help students and doctors practice on 3D-printed body parts. With Stratasys’ Polyjet process, it is not only capable of changing colors to replicate the human body, but the durometer can be changed in situ. Printing models of the human body for students and doctors to plan and practice a procedure can cut cost in training and in the operating room.
3D printing can generate implants. This means the implant is generated from the patient’s CT or MRI scan, which will provide a custom fit. This eliminates hours of hand-made customization with traditional processes that wouldn’t provide a fit as well as the 3D-printed implant.
“The population analysis services that we [Materialise] provide helped one facility reduced the number of cadaver specimens needed from 12 to 6—we saved they over $50k in development costs, and generated an additional $100k in sales to the bottom line by getting to the market faster,” says Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager of Materialise North America. “Materialise has ADAM, an Anatomical Data Mining service to help with medical imaging-based population design.”
Research also shows 3D printing models helps hospitals save up to 31 minutes in the operating room for cleft palates, resulting in cost savings of $1,036 per operation. Implementing 3D printing operations as an in-house service in a hospital can also allow for greater automation, faster turnaround times, and more opportunity for collaboration and iterative work on complex cases.
Materials for 3D printing models might have already been on the market, but with the popularity companies are trying to produce materials that feel more like tissue so it feels the same when a model is cut compared to the real thing. Recently, Sinterit launches a soft thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) to be used in small selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers.
At Formnext 2018, the company presented its soft TPU powder intended for small SLS 3D printers, called Flexa Soft. With a hardness between 40-55 in Shore A type scale, the company thinks this material will help doctors perform mock surgeries. The problem is that the human body tends to be fibrous, while plastic 3D-printed models are currently not. Despite this, materials used in the medical field, such as PEEK for implants and new materials such as Flexa Soft, will cut cost and time from an already complex and busy industry.
Currently, researchers are looking to go beyond printing models to printing fully functioning organs. Researchers at the University of Louisville are already printing layer-by-layer cellular structures, but without a vascular supply, once engineered tissue exceeds 150–200 micrometers, it no longer supports the oxygen diffusion needed between host and transplanted tissue. This mean to get a complex organ, scientist will need to find a way to scale up with an advanced multicellular structure with vascular network integrated into the part. This is stated in multiple 3D bioprinting research papers. However, the University of Louisville is currently developing structures that are pre-vascularized to keep these cells alive.
Drill guides comprise a large part of how 3D printing is saving time and money during operations. Free-hand drilling into the body sounds much more difficult, dangerous, and time-consuming for the doctor. (Credit: Materialise)
While researchers work on organs a new material might help in other area of the body. A person with a badly damaged ligament, tendon, or ruptured disc could simply have new replacement tissue printed and ultimately implanted in the damaged area, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Tissue Engineering, Part C: Methods. The University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor Robby Bowles and his team have developed a method to 3D-print cells to produce human tissue such as ligaments, tendons, and organs.
There has been an explosion in interest for 3D-printed human tissues; its global market size was estimated at $295 million in 2016, and is expected to grow to $1.8 billion by 2021. These values are based on the applications of 3D-printed tissues, which include disease tissue modeling, toxicology testing, tissue engineering, and skin transplants.
3D printing in 2019 will see continued growth and expansion. While there are no inherent breakthrough innovations, 3D printing itself has disrupted multiple markets and will continue to do so. This year will be a time to watch who comes out with new features, easier-to-use software, and materials that will push 3D printing into the future.