Additive technologies, known as 3D printing, have been present since the late 20th century. Namely, the roots of 3D printing were laid by Mr. Charles Hull in 1984 with the invention of a machine for printing objects from CAD files. The machine consisted of four main elements: a tank filled with liquid plastic (photopolymer), a platform that descended into the tank, a UV laser, and a computer that controlled the laser and the platform. The process took place in a few steps. The first step was to detect a thin layer of photopolymer above the platform, where it would instantly crystallize upon contact with a UV laser. After the first layer was done, the platform would go lower and thus reveal a new layer of liquid plastic, which the laser would recrystallize on the object to be printed and the two parts would instantly connect.
In these beginnings, 3D printing of the simplest objects took a long time. Small facilities that would be operated by small machines were usually finished between six and twelve hours, depending on the size of the facility and the machine. Larger facilities, measuring several meters, would be produced for days.
Although 3D printing has long been in use, it has only recently become widely available. Several factors have contributed to this – the ability to use several types of materials, the cheaper cost of printing and exponentially growing technological advances.
In its very beginning, 3D printing was used to create plastic figurines or prototypes of various products or ideas. Technological advances today make it possible to create life-size prostheses, models or electronic products. Considering all this, the greatest potential of 3D printing lies in the industry itself, especially in the medical field.
The name additive technology or additive production was defined in 2009 as an umbrella term by the ASTM International Committee. Today, several types of additive technologies are used. As mentioned earlier, stereolithography is the first process of additive production of objects layer by layer. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is commonly known as 3D printing. The object is created so that the polymer material passes through a nozzle where it is heated and deposited layer by layer on the work surface according to the created template.
This technology is used by over 40% of devices currently in use. Making objects by laminating makes the product so that the laser, layer by layer, cuts the laminated material placed on the previously cut layer. Selective laser melting, SLM, it is used to make high density elements. The powder material, with the help of a laser, is brought to the melting point and it is “glued” to the previous layer. Electron beam melting (EMB) is a method of building an object layer by layer by melting a layer of metal powder with an electron beam.
Additive technologies can be divided into rapid prototyping and rapid tooling, and rapid production that connects the production of prototypes and tools in the production of final products in smaller batches. Rapid prototyping is the name for a set of technologies that allow engineers to create a physical model of a product in development directly from project CAD, computer-aided design, a model without the need for additional work operations. The developed model is fully functional regardless of the complexity of the designed model.
This type of prototyping enables a faster development cycle, the possibility of presenting an unfinished product to potential customers and the implementation of their observations and comments. Rapid tooling is used during production design. In the mass production of products, it is necessary to design tools, such as molds for pressing, casting, injection and similar production processes. Tools are made with additive technologies in order to optimize production and to identify and eliminate shortcomings. In addition to the speed of making such tools, they are also significantly cheaper, which reduces pre-production costs.
According to estimates, the value of additive production in 2019 amounted to over 9 billion dollars, which is an insignificant part in relation to the entire industry, but there is a visible change in the trend in the increasingly changing business environment and new product development. Already, several start-up companies engaged in the production of machines for additive technologies and additive production have reached a market value of over a billion dollars, and more and more manufacturers of equipment for traditional processing are expanding the range of additive machines. A new branch of industry has also been developed that deals with the production of materials, powders, liquids, films used in the additive production process.
Modern devices have the ability to create very large objects. One of the largest commercial devices that has the ability to work with multiple materials, a combination of plastic, metal and ceramic, at the same time has a working area of 2000 x 800 x 600 centimeters and a maximum object weight of 250 kilograms. The largest workmanship made is a ship made at the Faculty of Marine Engineering in the United States. The printed ship is 7.6 meters long and weighs 2,200 kilograms, and the printing lasted 72 hours. The device used for printing the ship is used only for research, and has the ability to print workpieces up to 30 meters long, 6.5 meters wide and 3 meters high with a maximum amount of printing of 200 kilograms of material per hour.
In the general industry, 3D printing has increasing capabilities because today 3D printers work with materials such as titanium, steel, aluminum, iron and copper and as such represent a major advancement in the automotive and aerospace industries. Industries can focus more on the functions of their products because thinking about how the product will fit out of focus can fall out of focus. As a result, production is accelerated, production costs are reduced and less waste material is generated (40 to 70 percent) compared to the traditional method of production. For example, the production of one robotic arm by the classic method of production costs 10,000 US dollars and takes an average of 4 weeks. 3D printing produces $ 600 in 24 hours. Airbus has announced that the A350 is used in the production of over 1,000 3D-printed parts,
In the field of medicine, 3D printing is important for several crucial reasons. The first reason is the possibility of owning on-demand medical devices that are not overpriced. 3D printers can print stents, bandages and even surgical elements quickly and easily, in virtually the same seconds they are needed, ensuring the medical facility never runs out of vital supplies. As stated at the beginning of the text, individualized medical items made for a specific patient can be generated. A strong penetration of additive technologies occurs in dentistry where printers are intensively used in the manufacture of temporary veneers, permanent implants and dentures.
At the time of writing, COVID-19 is still holding the world in STOP mode.The big problem is the lack of respirators in hospitals that are flooded with patients, but this problem is solved by 3D printing parts for respirators. Great engagement, during the pandemic, was shown by various companies and enthusiasts who made their 3D printer capacities available. An example of this is Project Pitlane where Formula 1 teams teamed up to make respirator parts and the OPEN WORKS COVID-19 project where enthusiasts organized and began making protective visors for medical diatonics, and the project spread around the world.
Dentures are also made faster, simpler and cheaper. The comparison with classic prostheses is almost useless – in addition to the above advantages, 3D prostheses can be bionic (prostheses designed by biological engineering methods that are driven by muscle and nerve stimulation) and can be customized in size and weight.
In addition to applications in these narrow areas, 3D printing has the potential to change the world we live in in a much wider spectrum. It can be used as a major tool in the global fight against hunger and homelessness. There are already 3D food printers in the world. They would print custom foods, nutritionally rich, synthesized in layers from powder and oil containers that would be purchased at a local store. Containers of such food would be easy to transport, shelf life would be much longer than conventional foods, and could be made from materials such as insect proteins. Recently, for the first time, a vegetarian vegetable steak with a meat texture was successfully printed. The possibilities of this use of technology are enormous, from making food with a specific taste to special food that does not contain certain allergens or contains medicines for easier taking.
This would make it possible to explore space. For example, longer space travel lasts more than fifteen years. Food that would be powder, meaning that moisture has been extracted, could be stored for more than thirty years, allowing interplanetary travel with a human crew.
In addition to food, there is the possibility of cheaper home construction. In China, 3D printers are already being used that use 100% of the industrial waste given to them and build houses from that material instead of cement. Such dwellings are energy efficient, can withstand earthquakes up to magnitude 9 on the Richter scale and are built with less waste and environmental pollution.
With the advancement of 3D printers and associated technology, it is inevitable to wonder what is yet to come in this regard. One possibility is to print fully functional organs. Although it sounds like science fiction, technology has already reached the ability to print a variety of organic tissue. Various clinical trials and trials are already at an advanced stage. In 2019, a team of Israeli scientists successfully printed a functional example of a raspberry-sized heart, with all veins, cells and cells, made of biological material, and an Australian team printed a fully functional ear implant, which was implanted in a patient using stem cells and cartilage cells.
Manufacturers began to use additive technologies in the production of footwear and clothing. One such example is the company Feetz, which produces sneakers completely manufactured using additive technologies. The company takes advantage of additive technology to provide the customer with the entire experience of designing personalized sneakers. First, using a mobile application, the 3D user scans their feet, in order to create a CAD model for making sneakers. Using printers that support multiple materials allows you to make multicolored sneakers. In some of its footwear models, Adidas already uses parts produced by additive technologies, such as the sneaker sole. Recently, many start-up manufacturers have appeared with a desire to produce 3D printed clothing.
While the development of this type of technology sounds like an unmistakable direction in which humanity needs to go, there are also problems. The problems are, of course, economic in nature. The biggest problem will be to protect intellectual property. With the development of 3D scanning technology, it is becoming easier to perform very precise scanning of the desired elements, using easily accessible devices, which can be used to reverse engineer the product. Many companies that have designed certain products that they produce could find themselves in trouble because their trademark will become available to everyone and in addition, much cheaper. One solution is to sell CAD files for print to customers instead of physical products. While this is still a long way off, big manufacturers should already be starting to think about ways to overcome this problem or face the consequences.
With the spread of popularity and availability of 3D printers, in addition to the benefits for society and education, a serious problem of 3D printed weapons has emerged. CAD and STL open source files of complete and functional weapons are easily available on various websites, which is not a problem to create using cheap amateur 3D printers. The documentation needed to print the most popular model of a functional weapon has been downloaded over 100,000 times. Weapon manufacturers have been using additive technologies in production for a long time, mostly for the production of weapons tanks and armor, but some have already successfully used devices that can make parts from alloys to make a weapon control mechanism. This topic is not yet uniformly regulated by law, and in most countries it is not even regulated.
3D printing is already making a huge difference in the world as we know it, without even being aware of it at the moment. Some of the technology giants are already studying the market like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, IBM and Amazon, and we are aware of how much these companies have changed our lives in the last 10 years. The next step in the use of additive technology is the production of 3D printed electronic elements to speed up and facilitate the production of printed circuit boards that are now found in a large number of consumer products. Progress is also being made in the field of amateur printers, where the development of the most popular FDM printers with the possibility of testing metal products is being pursued.
The development of new materials, such as bio materials, various alloys and polymeric materials, is heating up, which will enable the production of much more complex products. The future of the industry is moving towards hybrid production that will make it possible to combine and complement additive and traditional production technologies. In connection with the development of industrial production, there is the development of narrowly specialized software solutions that facilitate and improve the development of new products.
When 3D printing in its full power is available to the masses, the next question arises – how will this affect innovation and the overall further development of civilization?