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Where are all the 3D printers we were promised?

“Obstacles must be overcome before 3D printing can see mass production”

Annalisa Plaitano, science communicator
On March 31st, 2021 |
2 mins reading time
“Obstacles must be overcome before 3D printing can see mass production”
Sumeet Jain
Sumeet Jain
Senior Director, 3D Printing Worldwide at Arkema
Key takeaways
  • 3D printing provides many advantages for industry: digitisation and decentralisation of production, product customisation and optimisation of inventory management, to name a few.
  • But there are still a number of shortcomings that stand in the way of its widespread use: price per unit, scarcity of materials and sometimes limited reliability.
  • Arkema has therefore developed a new continuous-fiber 3D printing technology with start-up company Continuous Composites to make this production method more sustainable, in particular by reducing costs and waste.

What are the pos­si­bil­i­ties and chal­lenges for 3D print­ing in the com­ing years? What is it still lack­ing to enter the mass pro­duc­tion market?

Sumeet Jain. Addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing has evolved con­sid­er­ably over the last decade, par­tic­u­lar­ly in terms of the mate­ri­als avail­able. Nev­er­the­less, there are still obsta­cles to over­come if indus­try is to adopt 3D print­ing for mass pro­duc­tion. These include lack of pro­duc­tion grade mate­ri­als, prod­uct reli­a­bil­i­ty and repeata­bil­i­ty, post-pro­cess­ing and cost per part. 

How­ev­er, man­u­fac­tur­ers in var­i­ous sec­tors do now recog­nise the untapped poten­tial of this tech­nol­o­gy, and are work­ing to over­come these chal­lenges. 3D print­ing enables digi­ti­sa­tion and decen­tral­i­sa­tion of pro­duc­tion, which increas­es design free­dom, prod­uct cus­tomi­sa­tion, sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the sup­ply chain and opti­mi­sa­tion of inven­to­ry management.

We real­ly got to see the poten­tial of addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it proved to be a for­mi­da­ble way to accel­er­ate the devel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of cer­tain prod­ucts. This impe­tus is like­ly to increase the reli­a­bil­i­ty of addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing in the com­ing years, notably through tech­no­log­i­cal advances and avail­abil­i­ty of pro­duc­tion scale materials.

Does addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing increase sustainability?

Addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing is com­pat­i­ble with an indus­try that is sus­tain­able not only from a busi­ness per­spec­tive, but also from a tech­no­log­i­cal and health per­spec­tive. Its free­dom of design allows pro­duc­tion of lighter objects and reduces unnec­es­sary con­sump­tion of start­ing mate­ri­als. In addi­tion, it allows opti­mal use of machine tools and the man­u­fac­ture of cus­tomised prod­ucts such as pros­the­ses, den­tal implants, hel­mets and oth­er pro­tec­tive equipment.

As sus­tain­abil­i­ty is at the heart of our strat­e­gy, we also offer poly­mers pro­duced from biosourced polyamide pow­ders, and we are active­ly devel­op­ing biodegrad­able and recy­clable prod­ucts to improve the envi­ron­men­tal impact of 3D print­ed products.

You are work­ing with the Amer­i­can start-up Con­tin­u­ous Com­pos­ites to devel­op a new tech­nol­o­gy for print­ing con­tin­u­ous car­bon fibres with resins. What is your objective?

Arke­ma’s part­ner­ship with Con­tin­u­ous Com­pos­ites is a per­fect exam­ple of how col­lab­o­ra­tion between com­ple­men­tary exper­tise can accel­er­ate inno­va­tion. Con­tin­u­ous Com­pos­ites” unique con­tin­u­ous fibre 3D print­ing tech­nol­o­gy uses Arke­ma’s ther­moset­ting resins (N3xtDimension®). This tech­nique enables us to pro­duce light­weight com­pos­ite mate­ri­als. In addi­tion, Con­tin­u­ous Com­pos­ites” CF3D tech­nol­o­gy pro­duces less waste and requires less labour, pro­vid­ing a sus­tain­able alter­na­tive to con­ven­tion­al com­pos­ite manufacturing.

A large pro­por­tion of prod­ucts made using com­pos­ites (such as air­craft parts, For­mu­la 1 cars or sports goods) can be man­u­fac­tured in this way. CF3D tech­nol­o­gy can offer con­sid­er­able cost sav­ings, open­ing up 3D print­ing to com­mon appli­ca­tions, espe­cial­ly where com­pos­ites are not yet in use.

Will the use of addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing become widespread? 

The knowl­edge and dif­fu­sion of 3D print­ing is increas­ing day by day. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are increas­ing­ly look­ing for a tech­nol­o­gy capa­ble of respond­ing to requests for mass prod­uct cus­tomi­sa­tion. Addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing has already trans­formed cer­tain sec­tors such as the den­tal indus­try, which is rapid­ly con­vert­ing to dig­i­tal dentistry. 

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, the addi­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­try has demon­strat­ed its abil­i­ty to col­lab­o­rate across bor­ders and share its exper­tise. Many essen­tial sup­plies, such as parts for res­pi­ra­tors, nasal swabs and visors, were pro­duced using 3D print­ing dur­ing the cri­sis to meet local demands.