Insights from BCC Research

3D Metal Printing: Dark Art or Modern Blacksmith?

Posted by BCC Research Editorial on Apr 5, 2017 11:00:00 AM

With new, standardized software from Lawrence Livermore Labs set to spur increased use of powder metals in 3D printing, BCC Research has recently published a FLASH report, 3D Metal Printing: Dark Art or Modern Blacksmith? FLASH reports are shorter, and focused on recent news or industry developments that are currently under the radar.

 
We spoke with Chris Spivey, one of BCC Research’s senior editors and co-author on the report.  Below are excerpts from the conversation
 
3D printing is almost old news- is standardizing software really going to upend the industry?
 
All of the innovations in 3D printing described in the report (including but not limited to software) are expected to result in a 42% increase in revenues over baseline by 2022.  I call that significant, but not an “upending”. Promoting known outcomes independent of which production facility makes the product should never be undervalued. It has an echo effect that will generate increasingly large benefits en route to widespread adoption. It is an inherent step any technology that is poised to leave the research and development groups, to join mainstream manufacturing, must embrace.
 
What is the most exciting aspect (scientifically speaking) about what is going on with 3D printing and metal powders?
 
Three come to mind: Improved understanding of the specific interactions going on in the mainstream methods; optimization of metal powders via gas atomization for additive manufacturing, and consistent delivery of that high-grade powder; and the likely emergence of viable liquid metal, as opposed to laser sintering methods, which have the potential to change and democratize the fledgling field. 
 
Will there be only a few who dominate, or very many platform manufacturers who find success?
 
Overall, its likely a select few approaches will capture, eventually, the lion’s share of the market. But niche players will prosper for those applications with particularly stringent or unusual requirements. We are on record as saying the “ …replacement of mainstream metal tooling is now scheduled” to take place. So, as with any widespread technology, one or two methods will accumulate enough advantages that their infrastructure ecosystem and cost benefits will sustain a dominant position for several if not very many years. Over time these may be switched out for a superior approach, but these too will dominate in that same fashion for a prolonged period.
 
What new technologies look to add appealing capabilities.?
 
Liquid metal inkjet printing, as mentioned. But I would also point to improved beam control for the laser sintering type of approaches. In the report we mention that adaptive optics can offer currently unappreciated benefits on that score.
 
Bottom line, if I am going to be flying in an airplane that has parts that are 3D printed, I want to know: is it safe?
 
Well, of course it is. The FAA/military standards for 3D printed parts, like all mission-critical parts are very rigorous and the approval process continues to be very painstaking. This report has asked many leaders in the field for their opinions, and I believe all of them emphasized something along the lines of “we need to put in place a streamlined materials qualification and certification strategy to provide near-net-shape metal parts certified for use in critical applications at a significantly reduced cost, time, and waste”. An unfortunate failure now might delay the schedule for overwhelming success, but it will not change the end result – 3D metal printing will become the largest metal manufacturing process sometime in the not too distant future.
 
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Topics: Advanced Materials