Editorial


 

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Cooking, and Grinding, with Additive

By: Brad Kuvin

Friday, August 5, 2016
 

I’m starting to see the folks working in the 3D metal-printing arena like kids in the proverbial candy store. What other conclusion can be drawn after reading Terry Wohlers’ column in this issue (pages 10-12), which highlights one 3D-printing technician’s efforts to design, fabricate and finish a 3D-printed aluminum guitar body, complete with barbed-wire highlights.

For sure, I’m one of those kids, thoroughly enjoying staying current on the rapidly changing landscape of this electrifying (no pun intended re: the printed electric guitar) industry. With big-time players like General Electric leading the way (nearly everyone knows of its 3D-printed jet-engine fuel nozzles), the technology developments are coming quickly and furiously. In fact, GE estimates (per a recent blog post by Todd Alhart, GE global research media relations manager) that “by 2025, more than 20 percent of new products will involve additive processes of some kind.”

News crosses my desk daily about some new and impressive application for metal printing. Take, for example, the work under way at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where researchers are using a powder-bed SLM printer and customized software to create, as described by a DoD technologies program director, “functionally graded structures for optical lasers that are impossible to make by conventional manufacturing methods.”

Most noteworthy about this application is the addition to the printer of diagnostic tools and high-speed cameras that can examine thermal emissions and surface details during part buildup. As described by LLNL physicist Ibo Matthews, the addition of such quality-control techniques allows users to more readily determine how defects occur during the printing process, and create a “3D map available at the end of the build that shows what and where it happened.” It’s that type of practical R&D that will enable GE’s optimistic outlook to come true.

And, lest you think that metal printing is just about aerospace, medical and other manufactured parts for industrial applications, some companies are bringing 3D metal printing to the masses. Case in point: An announcement in June that i.materialize, an online consumer-facing 3D-printing service provider commonly known for printing in plastic, now offers consumers a chance to print in a new ultra-lightweight aluminum material.

That development got us thinking about what types of products people will seek to be 3D metal printed. So, in the same vein as my previously mentioned metal-printed guitar-body, we’d like our readers to tell us their ingenious ideas for cool and unique 3D metal-printed products. We’re calling it our Make It Metal contest.

Tell us what you would make if you could make anything with a 3D metal printer—furniture, jewelry, automotive parts, toys? What would it be? Send us your fantasy 3D-printed metal product and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

Share your ideas at www.3DMPMag.com/MakeitMetal.

 

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