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Additive manufacturing is on the verge of being adopted more widely by the industry, as large companies Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company and Boeing, as well as small innovative start-ups, demonstrate that it can perform well on a large scale in manufacturing.
In May, Goodyear opened a $ 77 million plant in Luxembourg focused on 3D printing and capable of producing tires four times faster in small batches than conventional production. Goodyear is also testing its new 3D printed airless tire technology on Tesla electric vehicles and Starship Technologies autonomous delivery robots. For the past several years, he has worked on improving manufacturing techniques at a research and development center near Columbus, Ohio.
By 2030, Goodyear aims to bring maintenance-free and airless tires to market, and 3D printing is part of that effort for the Akron-based tire manufacturer, founded in 1898 and named after innovator Charles Goodyear. Currently, around 2% of its production takes place through additive manufacturing and greater integration into the mix is in sight.
“As with any innovation, finding the right use case is critical. 3D printing isn’t for every job. We use additive manufacturing for high-end, ultra-high-performance tires that require much more complexity and in smaller batch sizes. “said Chris Helsel, senior vice president, global operations and Goodyear CTO. “There is still an advantage in efficiently producing large series of tires through a normal assembly line.”
Taking advantage of new technology requires patience. “You can’t take it in, turn it on. It’s not a short trip. We’ve been on this route for 10-12 years,” Helsel said. In an initial commercialization of its 3D printed airless tires in 2017, Goodyear began equipping premium lawn mower models made by Bad Boy Mowers.
Recent history and future growth of 3D printing
The technology of layer-by-layer object printing from computerized designs dates back to the early 1980s. It is now transforming factories and is no longer considered a novelty, even though it was popularized over a decade ago by the MakerBot desktop 3-D printing company in the consumer hobbyist market. Today, a range of products, from airplane parts to dental aligners and car seats, are additively manufactured.
This new technology is seen as a competitive advantage and a way to improve the US manufacturing base and supply chain. But it may not revolutionize industrial production in general.
“Additive manufacturing is still a very small and specialized technology,” said Jörg Bromberger, director of strategy and operations at McKinsey in Berlin and lead author of the consulting firm’s recent report on industrial technology. “Investing heavily in additive manufacturing can have some effect, but it’s still quite limited,” he said.
Primarily useful for making high-value specialized parts and lower production volumes, Bromberger has set additive manufacturing at 2-3% of the $ 12 trillion manufacturing market.
Wohlers Associates, a consultant to the 3D printing industry, expects additive manufacturing to grow at a relatively rapid pace and expects the world market to reach $ 85.3 billion in 2031 from $ 15.2 billion in 2021. The industrial sector The leader using the technology is aerospace, followed by medical / dental and automotive, while the most common applications for 3D printing involve the making of end-use parts and functional prototypes, according to the company’s Wohlers Report 2022.
Key benefits of the technology include design flexibility in various 3D shapes that may work better or cost less, and custom manufacturing of parts. Other benefits include eliminating lengthy pre-production processes and making products on demand from digital files.
One of the main obstacles to adoption are investment costs. Prices for industrial 3D printing machines can range from $ 25,000 to $ 500,000 and up to $ 1 million for large systems. Further limitations are a lack of engineering talent to implement the technology, a knowledge gap between companies on why and how to use it, cultural resistance in the shop floor to change, and too few end-to-end 3-D printing systems.
Ongoing supplier consolidation in the industrial market could provide a more comprehensive service and one-stop shop for manufacturers. For example, Desktop Metal based in Burlington, Massachusetts acquired The ExOne Company in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania in a November 2021 deal that brought together multiple additive manufacturing solutions under one roof.
But the stock market’s reception of 3D printing as a pure investment theme hasn’t been good in recent years. Desktop Metal has lost nearly 80% of its value since it went public in 2021, and the performance of other 3-D printing industry games has been poor even as technology advances.
In another major partnership, some of the nation’s largest industrialists are working with family-owned Rust Belt to 3D print components.
Humtown Products, a 63-year-old family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, adopted 3D printing in 2014 as an efficient method for making industrial cores and molds. Its early adoption helped the company stay in business after struggling through the 2009 recession and when the US foundry business moved overseas or died out in the face of cheaper competition overseas. Humtown Products has been able to retain large corporate customers including GE, Caterpillar and Cummins.
Today, its additive manufacturing division accounts for 55% of total revenue and is growing 50% annually. The move to 3D printing was the company’s “Kodak moment,” said owner and president Mark Lamoncha. “If you’re not in the next space, you’re out of business,” Lamoncha said. “This industry is at a turning point towards commercialization and in many disciplines it is equivalent to driving a racing car,” he said.
Truck engine manufacturer Cummins is using Humtown as a supplier to improve its accuracy in making 3D printed castings and has streamlined production by printing large parts in one piece rather than composites. “We have been very successful. Volumes are starting to rise, and although the prices are still a bit higher than conventional processes, it is much more accurate and we are able to triple our process capacity, or output,” said Larry Lee, Cummins technical advisor.
Humtown Products, a 63-year-old family-owned foundry near Youngstown, Ohio, first adopted 3D printing in 2014 to make industrial cores and molds for customers including GE, Cummins, and Caterpillar.
Humtown Products was able to tap into the technology through a group of 3D printing resources in Youngstown that business, government, and academia supported to help revive the former steel town’s local economy. This tech hub includes several entities that place northeastern Ohio at the forefront of the 3D printing industrial revolution: the America Makes government-backed industry accelerator, the Youngstown Business Incubator which hosts 12 additive startups, such as the builder of industrial machinery and designer JuggerBot3d, and Youngstown State University’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing and the new $ 12 million Training Center for Excellence.
“Regions are seeing the opportunity to build the workforce around this technology, but there is still a knowledge gap about lessons learned and success stories,” said John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes. “We aim to fill this gap”.
Aerospace company Boeing is hard at work perfecting its approach to additive manufacturing. Boeing’s Additive Manufacturing Fabrication Center in Auburn, Washington is designed to research the use of cutting-edge technology.
“For the industry, it’s definitely a competitive advantage because you can design in ways you can’t do with traditional manufacturing,” said Melissa Orme, vice president of additive manufacturing since 2019, a role that spans the company’s three businesses. they produce commercial aircraft, satellites and defense systems. She works with a team of 100 engineers, researchers and other specialists to advance the development of technology.
Orme cited benefits in terms of delivery times reduced by a factor of ten, simplified design in one large piece for assembly, and increased durability.
“Right now, we’re super mature in using 3D printing for satellites,” he said. “It could become standard to have 3D printed parts on every satellite.”
For Boeing’s subsidiary Millennium Space Systems, acquired in 2018 as a manufacturer of small national security space satellites, 100% 3D printed satellites were made this year with 30% less cost and a five-percent reduction. months of production time. A frequent user of the technology for several years, Boeing also has 3D printed parts for helicopters and seats for the Starliner spacecraft, as well as components for the Boeing 787 and equipment for 787 aircraft wings.
Even so, challenges remain in adopting the new technology. “It requires a cultural shift to embrace it,” Orme said. “Engineers are taught to design with reduced risk and this leads them to traditional manufacturing. We need more manufacturing data to achieve a level of design comfort for the additive,” he said, equivalent to seven decades of data on the additive. traditional production. “Once that’s done, we can eliminate or reduce the risk of this evolving technology,” she said.