3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing, meaning objects are built by adding materials together rather than by subtracting materials, which is the case in traditional machining. Creating parts and pieces for industry has mostly been a long and limited process. Options are often limited and associated costs can present a sizable burden to redesign and innovation. Companies that need to machine parts for prototypes, testing, and replication, can now, in many cases, obtain parts using a 3D printer. The ability to 3D print in strong materials such as carbon fiber, nylon, and metal, has greatly contributed to the changing world of advanced manufacturing.
Most items found commercially are made with plastics since they are easily molded and resist corrosion. This material is used by the majority of 3D printing enthusiasts. Most 3D printing plastic filaments include PLA filament, which extrudes well at around 210 degrees C, and ABS filament, which needs an extrusion temperature closer to 230 degrees C. However, products that require great strength and durability need parts made of strong materials such as metals.
One company, Markforged, offers 3D printing technology capable of creating parts from strong, durable materials including aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, stainless steel, and fiberglass. Markforged metal printers use metal injection molding (MIM) technology, allowing prototyping and production to take place using the same materials and process. Another process coined by Markforged is atomic diffusion additive manufacturing (ADAM). This is where metal powder bound in plastic is printed one layer at a time into the shape of a part and then washed and sintered in a furnace to create a solid metal part. This technology is allowing for the creation of parts equally as strong as their machined counterparts, but produced quicker and more cost effectively. Having this type of 3D printing machinery available for talented designers and engineers could provide companies with accelerated innovation as well as efficient productivity. The ability to recreate replacement parts for antique cars, custom machinery, and even modern aircraft will have a noticeable impact on the jobs of the future.