Polymer additive technologies within reach of our production chains?

Polymer Additive Manufacturing is moving from a prototyping technique to a production technique. Major changes can be expected for equipment suppliers, yet the future will partly depend on how standardisation evolves.

Additive technologies have grown a great deal in the past 25 years! More speed, more materials, improved accuracy are all arguments that are now spurring companies to consider using them in the production process. 

Polymer AM technologies already paved the way towards this revolution in the 1990s; however, they were as yet far too frequently reserved for use on prototypes. In contrast, over recent years, major changes have been seen in leading supplier strategies. 

Two recent examples offer a fine illustration: Stratasys and 3D Systems. 

Stratasys recently presented its H2000 3D printer project associating highly developed FDM technologies and automated and robotised management, in line with the machining centres that already exist within our companies, offering genuine production cells.

© Stratasys

© Stratasys

3D Systems, a pioneer in AM technology based on the use of photosensitive resins, is also in the front line thanks to its 'Figure 4' modular platform project which enables customers to adapt configurations and select materials to satisfy specific applications. Configurations range from single-print modules to entirely automated and high volume production systems of up to 16 modules, automated material supply management and integrated post-processing.

©3D Systems

©3D Systems

The 'Figure 4' platform targets the production of complex and personalised parts, whilst satisfying durability and repeatability requirements in production environments. 

The foundations have been laid, change is underway and, over the years to come, we will see the emergence of this type of equipment within our companies! Certain sectors, such as dentistry or hearing implant manufacturing, already produce millions of components across the globe every year. These new and even more highly evolved systems promise to convince other industry sectors. 

Nevertheless, in order to ensure their successful integration within the world of production chains and plants, these technologies will need to 'submit to' their specific demands and requirements. The fact that standardisation in the field of additive manufacturing is still in its very early days may prove to be a short-term hindrance to their evolution. 

Standards are essential: whether they concern design, production, control, etc., they guarantee a common language between the company's different operators or subcontractors, and even offer quality communication between processes and equipment, not forgetting command of quality-related issues. 

The great diversity of technologies and stakeholders in the field does not simplify matters; however, there is no doubt that the future of polymer Additive Manufacturing partly depends on changes in standardisation. All departments are concerned, from the design office for adapted and optimised design, to material and equipment purchasing, via production and quality control. 

Although difficult, the task before us is far from insurmountable. And we can all contribute: suppliers, users, companies. Successfully and rapidly attaining quality standardisation for additive manufacturing can but reinforce the image of these technologies and proffer them with increased credibility.  It will also, and above all, accelerate their implementation, hence reinforcing our companies' competitiveness. 

If you would like further information on additive manufacturing standardisation, feel free to contact us via our Standards Cell.

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