Composite 3D printing is a young technology, but one with huge, largely untapped, potential. By Mark Johnston.
3D printing technology has made significant advancements in recent years and is set to continue revolutionising how we think about manufacturing.
With projects involving printed homes, cars, and even human organs, 3D printing has a promising future across a plethora of industries and applications.
Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is often referred to, reads data from digital files and translates that data into three-dimensional objects. It does this by layering (adding) material one on top of another until the final product takes shape.
Originally seen as a useful tool for prototyping, 3D printing has become increasingly mainstream, continuously making inroads in mass production as the range of usable materials increase.
It is now possible to print in a range of materials, from metals to plastics, ceramics, glass, and even stem cells and chocolate.
The speed at which products can be printed has also increased significantly, with breakthroughs in stereolithography methods seeing a 100x increase in the speed products can be 3D printed.
Stereolithography works by building from a bed of photoreactive liquid resin, which selectively hardens as it is released with the application of different wavelengths, ultimately achieving a continuous print.
Other benefits of 3D printing include significantly reducing waste – seen as a boon to the environmental cost. In some cases, waste and raw materials have been reduced by as much as 90 percent.
Composite materials have a range of properties that are not typically found in non-composite materials, namely better customisation on material properties such as strength, stiffness, heat resistance, and durability.
According to Quince Market Insights, the global 3D printed composite materials market is expected to reach US$628.5 million by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 27.3 percent in terms of value from 2021 to 2028.
The aerospace & defence industry has been one of the early adopters of the 3D printed composite materials. Seen as highly useful for producing complex parts. It provides designers the advantage of creating the best parts with reduced cost and production feasibility.
Furthermore, 3D printing technology is transforming the manufacturing process in the automotive industry. The technology has helped the industry in making more complex and lighter structures at the optimised costs.
For instance, many Formula 1, supercars, and concept cars are using 3D-printed parts. Besides this, 3D printing technology has been creating an enormous opportunity for the healthcare industry. Multiple sectors within the healthcare industry are benefiting from 3D printing, including orthopaedics and dental that lead to create better-performing medical devices.
Historically, the Asia Pacific (APAC) region has lagged behind other markets such as Europe and the US when it comes to additive manufacturing. However, that is changing, fast.
The market has begun to take off, and with continued government support and growing interest from APAC manufacturing companies.
China is seen as the biggest force in 3D printing in Asia, with significant government investment, which forms part of the countries ‘Additive Manufacturing Industry Development Plan’ that looked to make a national AM industry of US$3 billion by 2020, forming part of the ‘Made In China 2025’ strategic roadmap for the country’s manufacturing sector.
In regards to ASEAN, overall AM penetration is still relatively small, however, significant hotspots like Singapore are investing significant resources into growing the industry both locally, and regionally.
According to ThyssenKrupp, AM has the potential to create more than US$100 billion in value and 3 to 4 million jobs in ASEAN. However, to capitalise on this opportunity, both governments and business leaders will need to work together to boost local expertise and build out the necessary infrastructure across ASEAN countries.
In Singapore, HP partnered with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), opening a US$84 million HP-NTU Corporate Innovation Lab focused on digital manufacturing technologies and 3D printing. This proved to be HP’s largest university research partnership worldwide and a first for the Asian region.
Through changing the inks and materials used for 3D printing, new possibilities open up for rapid prototyping and the creation of low cost, mass produced 3D printed complex products with improved material properties.
Overall, additive manufacturing can contribute significantly to bringing down production costs, and improving supply chain resilience, while enabling on-demand production.
However, to realise AM’s full potential a complete rethink of the manufacturing process will need to happen, and this will require the full support of governments working in close partnership with private enterprise to facilitate this transition. That being said, the future looks bright for Asia’s AM scene.
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