3D Printing Tech Digest - January 2017

Adidas 4.0

Adidas announced its plans to bring production of its sports shoes back to Germany with the foundation of Speedfactory, in Ansbach. Adidas says the factory will focus on new manufacturing techniques and methodology known as Industry 4.0, through the integration of 3D printing, robotics, ICT solutions, and improved human machine interaction. Adidas is already producing 3D printed trainers for the commercial market and trainers tailored to individual customers’ demands and designs. Production at the new plant is due to begin in mid-2017 with the ambition to produce 500,000 pairs of trainers a year. 

Uses of 3D printing in vehicles

Engineers at the University of Nottingham, UK, are using SLM (selective laser melting) 3D printing technology to create light weight automotive parts in their FLAC (Functional Lattices for Automotive Components) project. SLM printing is done by using a laser beam to selectively melt sections of an aluminium alloy powder; the melted metal fuses and solidifies to create structures containing complex lattices (hence creating light weight objects). The engineers predict that 3D printing automotive parts will deliver many benefits compared to traditional car part manufacturing techniques in three areas: SLM printed products’ lightness makes them more fuel efficient, cuts noise and also cuts CO2 emissions by 16.97g/km. The project has received GBP1.7 million to investigate 3D printing’s potential to create components like brake callipers, heatsinks for LED headlights and car powertrain sub-systems.
Renault Trucks has also been investigating metal 3D printing to boost engine performance. It claims to have already produced a prototype DTI 5 4-cylinder Euro 6 step C engine that was constructed exclusively by 3D printing. It says that using 3D printed components has reduced engine weight by 25% (120kg) and that the parts have proved durable and long lasting. 3D printing has, Renault Trucks states, reduced the number of components in the engine by 25% (200 parts). 
Boeing has given Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) a commission to print parts for its CST 100 Starliner spacecraft which will launch in 2018. The craft’s mission is to ferry cargo and people to and from the International Space Station. OPM’s proprietary OXPEKK 3D printing material is a poly-ether-ketone-ketone formulation which the company claims reduces total production time, costs and weight. Concurrently Boeing is incorporating 3D printed parts in plane engines. 

A printer that knits 

At the recent National Retail Federation show (NFR) Intel’s booth contained a 3D printer – printing a burgundy jumper. The printer, produced by Japanese company Shima Seiki, is called the Mach 2XS, and can print out a garment in, Intel claims, 45 minutes. The garment is tailored to the customer’s body, choice of textile, style etc. This was just one of the products on offer by Intel to retailers. Intel believes that 3D printing could be instrumental in bringing customers back into physical shops, by enabling the provision of onsite, tailored 3D printed products.

3D printed blood vessels transplanted into monkeys

Sichuan Revotek, a Chinese biotechnology company, has used its 3D bioprinter to print living, functioning blood vessels from the stem cells of a rhesus monkey, which it then fused with blood vessels in the monkey’s body. Sichuan Revotek’s bioprinter uses its ‘biosynsphere’ bioink which stimulates cell growth through adding nutrients and growth factors, the company claims. Using stem cells from a patient’s body to print vessels or organs would mean that the immune system would not reject them when transplanted. The researchers removed 2-cm long segments of artery in 30 monkeys and replaced them with 3D printed segments. Within five days the cells had adapted and fused. 

3D printing onto uneven unknown surfaces

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth, UK, have developed a method to 3D print onto a previously unknown, uneven surface. Place an unknown object into the printer, scan the object, extract point cloud data (a point-based map of the object’s surface), superimpose the data with a to-be-printed object, generate a path for the printer head to follow, and then you can print the new object on top of the original object. The researchers chose to use a Prusa i3 3D printer for its low cost and suitable functionality, and proved their methodology. They see it being used in repairing structures, printing security features onto existing objects, printing antennas onto items etc. 

US army 3D prints on-demand drones

The US Army Training and Doctrine Command has recently showcased its 3D printed on-demand drones to the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). The ARL says that this technology enables 3D printed drones to be produced on-demand for soldiers’ specific mission needs. This is done by soldiers’ inputting requirements into mission planning software which is then converted into a mission-optimized 3D printed aerial drone within 24 hours. Following feedback from army commanders the team will now work on low noise, long flight-time and wide range of operation, heavier payload capacities and better agility in the drones. They have also printed 3D weapon mount accessories.  

Strong 3D printed graphene structures

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have created graphene reinforced 3D structures using a multi-material 3D printer. The researchers claim that the 3D structures are ten times stronger than steel despite having only 5% of the density. The application of pressure and heat to compress graphene flakes produced the strong structure. The structure was subject to compression and tensile testing in the lab which showed the ability of the structure to support substantial weight. 

Rocket combustion chamber to use 3D printed part

Rocket Crafters, a rocket launch system company, has had a patent granted for a method of designing and fabricating rocket combustion chambers for hybrid rocket engines using 3D printing. It claims that by 3D printing the combustion chamber it could cut the cost of sending small satellites into orbit to half of the current launch cost. Rocket Crafters says it is expecting to incorporate its rocket motors into orbital launch vehicles by 2019.

Bath University researchers claim 3D printing is not currently suitable for printing membranes

In a recent paper, Bath University researchers targeted 3D printing as a possible solution to the problem of creating better separation membranes (a filtering barrier, e.g. the reverse osmosis membrane used in water desalination). The team is interested in the capability of 3D printing to create complex geometries in a wide range of materials, scales and methods (photo-polymerisation, powder, extrusion, lamination). Although the scientists say that 3D printed membranes do work and could overcome some challenges posed with current membranes, they conclude that currently 3D printed membranes are not viable due to the high cost of production, slow print speed, complexity and materials.  

Realistic 3D printed ogre

Using a Stratasys J750, Oculus character artist Giovanni Nakpil has printed an ogre model which was modelled in Oculus Medium, a program to design 3D models in a virtual reality environment. The 3D printed model as seen in a video posted on Twitter certainly looks to be of very high quality: the ogre’s face shows fine wrinkles, a slightly red nose, and yellowing on the protruding canines. Nakpil says that he didn’t do any post-print touching up to enhance the detail or shading of the model. The Stratasys J750 is a full-colour, multi-material 3D printer that can produce up to 350,000 colours, Stratasys claims.  


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