The power of technology is undeniable. In the past decade, technological advancements have completely transformed the way in which we go about our daily lives. Inventions like smartphones, electric cars, drones and augmented reality push the boundaries of everyday life and bring to life ideas once labelled impossible.
Three-dimensional (3D) printing, or additive manufacturing, is another example of technology breaking barriers. The way in which the technology operates allows increased object customisation, geometric complexity and is considered more time and cost effective, especially in prototype development or small manufacturing runs of complex parts that otherwise, would be too costly to manufacture with traditional methods.
In Australia, Applus+ is currently exploring the use of additive manufacturing and the potential benefits of using 3D printing technology; ‘dipping our toes in the water’ with respect to 3D printing services. Applus+ has designed and created custom items for the Materials Centre, including a macro ruler and microscope light attachment, and has also used 3D methods to modify equipment with minor design flaws.
As Applus+ in Australia explores additive manufacturing, the technology itself continues to advance. A variety of printing processes are now associated with additive manufacturing, each with unique technologies to support the different approaches:
- Material Extrusion: a spool of filament is loaded into the machine and fed through a nozzle. The nozzle is heated to a certain temperature, pushing the melted filament onto the build bed. As the material is laid down, it begins to cool and solidify. The printer continues to gradually deposit layers onto the build bed until the 3D object forms.
- Vat Polymerisation: a photo-polymer resin in a vat is selectively cured by a light source. The most common types of vat polymerisation are stereolithography (SLA) and digital light processing (DLP).
- Powder Bed Fusion: a 3D printing process where a thermal energy source induces fusion between powder particles within a build area to create a solid 3D object.
- Material Jetting: a process in which a print head moves back and forth, typically on an x, y and z axis, depositing material onto the build area. This process uses photopolymers or wax droplets that cure when exposed to light, gradually building layers one at a time.
- Binder Jetting: the print head places down layers of powdered material alternately with a liquid binder in order to develop 3D objects. Once a layer has been printed, the powder bed is lowered before a new layer of powder is spread. Once this process has been repeated and an object is formed, it is left to further harden.
- Metal Powder Bed Fusion: a thermal source is used to ignite fusion between petal powder particles in order to create solid 3D objects. Common techniques are Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM).
As additive manufacturing moves forward and technologies develop further, Applus+ will continue to explore emerging opportunities in 3D printing.