By Melissa Donovan
The April issue of Industrial Print magazine covers additive manufacturing (AM) and its use in electronics, robotics, and computing. Recent advancements in three-dimensional (3D) printing technology—from the physical printers themselves to the filaments or materials used—are enabling manufacturers to move from strictly prototypes to full-on production of thousands of parts.
A great example of AM’s importance in technology like electronics, robotics, and computing is the recent chip shortage. AM played a pivotal role in that is bolstered opinion about how important it is to bring manufacturing in house and just how easy it can really be.
“The shortage and supply chain issues showed manufacturers that they need to look at other methods of manufacturing, such as AM,” comments Nanci Hardwick, CEO, MELD Manufacturing Corporation. At MELD for example, the technology is used to manufacture the metal forgings—usually sourced from China—needed for mass producing chips. Using AM here alleviates the chip shortage.
Research firm IDTechEx reports in its Metal Additive Manufacturing 2022-2032: Technology and Market Outlook that the metal additive manufacturing market is forecast to reach $18.5 billion by 2032.
According to the study, released in March 2022, a factor limiting metal AM’s penetration was the limited size of available metals for AM. “Not only are relatively few high-performance metals available for demanding applications, but the cost of metal powders often exceeds hundreds per kilo. To address this, materials start-ups are exploring high-performance metals like aluminum and alternative feedstock forms like pellets and slurries.”
AM is used by semiconductor capital equipment manufacturers to optimize strength-to-weight ratios, integrate conformal cooling structures, and reduce system part counts and the need for assemblies, explains Scott Green, principal solutions leader, 3D Systems. “There is a tremendous opportunity for AM to be an important technology to overcome the semiconductor shortage, and once again strengthen supply chains.”
“The current chip shortage is a notable example that shows how AM can step up to the plate in areas and industries in particular times of need as an on demand solution. These kinds of relief efforts quickly show AM’s capabilities to make changes for the better and in turn, new solutions are brought into the market that are no longer just temporary ideas but instead become new ways of manufacturing with the capability to scale and often quite quickly,” states a representative from Roboze.
AM didn’t solve the chip shortage, notes Jonah Myerberg, CFO, Desktop Metal, Inc., but it did make automotive companies think about how to handle such a crisis if it happens again.
From the chip shortage, more manufacturers are realizing just how instrumental it is to bring certain parts of the manufacturing process in house. “Heading into 2022, many companies realize that producing parts themselves, without relying on global suppliers, puts them in a stronger position to get their products to market,” explains Elisa Teipel, Ph.D., chief development officer/co-founder, Essentium Inc.
Paul Ruscoe, new business development director, Photocentric Ltd. (UK), says that manufacturing directly from a digital file dramatically improves supply chain security. “You can start to manufacture at the location of your choice the same day. It is as simple as sending the digital file and pushing the go button. Having the ability to do this circumvents issues with logistics and of course can dramatically reduce the ever-increasing transportation costs, and it is also better for the environment.”
Electronic Case Study
Mercury Systems, a leading electronics manufacturer serving customers from government agencies and defense contractors to commercial aerospace businesses and technology companies, needed to address a major bottleneck in the conformal coating manufacturing process for printed circuit boards (PCB). Conformal coating must be prevented from getting into connectors in the PCB during manufacturing.
Previously, Mercury used a taping method, which was time consuming and created bottlenecks. It also used injection-molded boots, which allowed technicians to quickly protect PCBs and eliminate labor bottlenecks, but the lead time and cost proved unsustainable.
To solve these issues, Mercury worked with Essentium Inc. to explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing as an alternative to injection-molded materials. Using an Essentium High Speed Extrusion 3D printing platform and Essentium’s TPU 74D-Z, Mercury designed, iterated, and printed enough boots for production use in one day, decreasing lead time by nearly 85 percent. For the same PCB product order that cost Mercury $9,000 on tooling and parts, the 3D printed equivalent was $500, reducing cost by 95 percent.
Thriving with AM
It is an exciting time to witness 3D printing and its many uses. Visit our webinar page to and tune into a recent broadcast on this same topic, sponsored by 3D Systems and Prodways Tech.
May2022, Industrial Print Magazines