TREND BAROMETER: Spare parts from the 3-D printer?
The secret of 3-D printing is the computerized construction of three-dimensional workpieces with 3-D data. 3-D printing is already used in many industries, for example in mechanical engineering and the automotive industry (custom parts, spare parts), in medical technology (tooth prosthetics, dentures, hip joints, hearing aids), in creating jewelry, or for toys. Worldwide, there are more than 70 manufacturers of 3-D printers with an annual turnover of around € 2 billion just with these printers.
The technology itself is not new. The process was developed in the mid-80s in the USA, where it was referred to as rapid prototyping. This is a production method that relies on 3-D data to build up three-dimensional workpieces in layers in a computerized approach. Just like with an inkjet printer, the programmed contour is first built up in one layer, followed by the next layer, and so on until the complete part is created.
The materials used for this can be solid or liquid, they are typically plastics but can also be synthetic resins, ceramics and even a variety of metals including titanium.
Over the years, a variety of specific 3-D printing methods have been developed, such as laser sintering, additive laser welding, stereo lithography or laminated object modeling (LOM). Generally these methods are referred to by the term "additive manufacturing". The individual methods are already capable of achieving precisions in the micrometer or even nanometer range.
Thanks to what has now become a great variety of methods and materials, and due to the price slump of the technology, a wide variety of new, potential applications are opening up. One thing is sure, the more features a component or an assembly needs to have, and the more complex the geometry is, the more economical manufacturing with the 3-D method will be. Here the opposite applies of what was true before about inexpensive production through large quantities: the lower the numbers, the more economical additive manufacturing is. On top of this, 3-D printing offers the benefit of an easy approach to varying shapes or implementation details and customizing components.