We are living through a time of profound and rapid technological change. The Digital trail is there and the Industry can not escape to this destination! A clear example of this galloping evolution is the Additive Manufacturing.
The banalization of the designation “3D printing” has helped disseminate current additive manufacturing technologies, also called additive fast fabrication technologies, based on the construction of layer-by-layer objects from a computer generated file. Far went the 80’s when the first technologies of “rapid prototyping” appeared in the market as tools to aid the process of product development. Today the additive manufacturing technologies available in the market make Products!
In the current industrial scenario, high productions and methodologies that maximize the use of productive factors resulting in economic benefits are generally favored. However, in this globalized world the basic cell is the individual and this individualistic entity is looking for unique, distinctive and personalized products – this is a great challenge and a greater opportunity for anyone who offers innovation in the Product. What will be the solutions when you want productions that favor a high variety of products in small series, rapid responses to the market, lack of stocks, lighter products, products with more favorable ecological footprints? Can you think of an industry that does not need tools and molds, production lines, economies of scale? Can you eliminate assembly lines and supply chains? Can you have proximity or distributed production? A complete answer to these and other questions of this nature is not expected today, and additive manufacturing is not thought to be the solution if we are to seek a solution. The additive manufacture comes to offer new horizons to the industrial reality of today, allowing to extend and to reinvent the product offer and we can affirm that we already have, today, production at a distance of a “click”.
However, it is important to keep in mind the technical barriers that must be overcome in additive manufacturing, especially in the equipment solutions available on the market today. These include: high acquisition and maintenance costs, low productivity, need for better resolutions and definitions in the product, dimensions of the objects to be produced, quality assurance process, software that does not maximize the potential of technologies and the inherent difficulties of low availability of qualified technical personnel … but technological progress is taking place at an extraordinary level.
Portugal, and the North region in particular, has a very important component of its industrial production based on subtractive processes (processes that resort to the removal of material for manufacturing products, such as machining), namely in the transformation of metals and alloys of metal. Additive manufacturing may, in this particular case, lead to a change, even a partial one, of paradigm – a reduction in the use of subtractive techniques to the benefit of the use of additive techniques. This is an example where it is imperative that the industry be attentive and participate in this disruptive industrial revolution that is happening. Today, there are national companies, particularly in the field of tool and mold manufacturing, that begin to incorporate these fast manufacturing techniques into their production processes. Particularly relevant here is selective laser sintering (SLS), an additive manufacturing technique that transforms powders (mainly metallic and polymeric) into products of high interest to the industry. A brief statement for other industrial sectors where additive manufacturing is penetrating and conquering its space: the ceramic industry through robocasting and 3D printing techniques, the hard metal sector with robocasting and fused filament fabrication (FFF), the jewelery sector through SLS and FFF, the product sector through the use of FFF and steriolithography. In the fashion and clothing sector, particularly in accessories, additive manufacturing has a high potential because it allows to create unique accessories according to customers preferences, with new and innovative materials. Textile printing is still a topic that is taking the first steps – the lack of flexibility of the current materials and the fact that there are no 3D printers are problems under study and in the solution phase. There has been some development with polymers such as latex, silicone, polyurethane and teflon, at times combined with cotton, viscose or nylon, resulting in very elastic fabrics and with memory effect. It is an area in which the national industry must be attentive.
Despite its low industrial expressiveness in Portugal, the medical sector is a sector of enormous potential for additive manufacturing, and it is nowadays the sector that uses these techniques the most. The use of additive manufacture in the development of medical instrumentation, in the manufacture of organs, in the customization of prostheses and orthoses, in implants, in anatomical models, in drug delivery and dosage systems, among others. The mobility sector (transport, aviation and space) today uses these technologies with the aim of developing products with lower weight through the manufacture of complex shapes, intricate geometries and with fewer points of union. Within five years these two sectors may account for more than 50% of the world market share for additive manufacturing.
Countries such as the United States of America, China with its National Plan for Additive Manufacturing, Germany, Japan and England are taking leadership positions in this area. It is up to us to put Portugal on this technology map. Certainly with the support of entities of the Scientific and Technological System, which have been making an effort to create knowledge in this area, companies and entrepreneurs will be able to incorporate these technologies and develop innovative products and solutions by additive manufacturing, thus giving new directions to the national industry.
University of Aveiro, January 22, 2019