D printing could remake U
But there are no clanging hammers, wheezing presses or even computer controlled milling machines.Instead, a dozen 3 D printers quietly stitch together industrial parts by meticulously spreading hundreds or thousands of layers of powdered metal onto a canvas until they form three dimensional shapes.PHOTOS: 3 D printers make precise parts for industryThe machines look and function like document printers. They run automatically. A lone operator occasionally adds powder, programs the design of a new part into a computer or removes the finished object. manufacturing more competitive globally and could bring more jobs back to the United States.Just as it transformed music, TV and books, digital technology is poised to reinvent a sector that might seem immune from the world of digital ones and zeros: manufacturing. While 3 D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been used since the late 1980s to make prototypes, it's increasingly cranking out limited runs of actual parts for products as printing speeds increase and product quality improves.Part production made up nearly a quarter of the $1.7 billion in sales of 3 D printing products and services last year, twice 2007's share, according to Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a consulting firm. By 2019, part making is expected to constitute 80% of the industry's $6.9 billion in revenue.Some of the increase can be traced to the growing ranks of entrepreneurs and hobbyists who are buying a relatively new class of printers that cost $2,000 or less to Pandora Charms Clearance Store make jewelry, toys and other knickknacks. But the manufacturing industry accounts for most of the surge, Wohlers says. The number of industrial printers sold annually by the top two makers Stratasys and 3D Systems has more than doubled since 2005.Since just a few employees run dozens of printers vs."It becomes very cost competitive with anything you can get from China," says Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. should yield a net increase in employment.With that goal in mind, the federal government is spending $45 million to help fund a planned additive manufacturing institute that will develop innovations for the burgeoning industry and help bring it into the mainstream.Trophies and torque convertersAt its factory here, ExOne makes 3 D printers for manufacturers but also uses the machines to turn out parts on a contract basis. On a recent weekday, a torque converter for a car transmission and a corporate trophy were being made side by side in one printer. Another was making fingers for a prosthetic hand. A third was printing 12 stove burners as part of an order of 500.To make the gas burners, which look like sewing thimbles, a computer aided design, sliced into multiple cross sections, is entered into a computer, telling the printer precisely how to shape the burner. A roller puts down a layer of gray metal powder. A cartridge then glides across the surface like a quiet dot matrix print head, depositing a chemical to bind together certain particles and form 12 images of three concentric circles. It looks like a rough sketch of a gas burner, but it's actually a 1/4000 inch layer of it. The completed layer drops down and a new gray sheet of powder is smeared across. After a box is filled up and its contents heated, a worker removes the block of powder and clears away the excess to reveal the burners.Other 3 D printers follow different processes. Many plastic parts, for example, are shaped by squirting successive layers of melted plastic through a nozzle.It takes 5 hours to make the 152 layers that will constitute each of the 12 burners, about half the time it took two years ago with slower machines. This fall, ExOne will install new machines more than four times faster than current models."Every time we drive down our (unit costs), we add another potential market group," says ExOne President David Burns.Making the burners the traditional way would have required the creation of a die, out of which metal parts are stamped. Dies, molds and other tools cost thousands of dollars and take weeks or months to forge, delaying product rollouts. They still make sense if manufacturers can spread that cost across many thousands of products but not for a few hundred or even several thousand.Another benefit is that the 3 D printer layers only as much metal powder as needed. Standard manufacturing cuts figures out of blocks of metal or other substances, often wasting as much Pandora Charms Clearance as 90% of the raw material. Also, inventory costs are sharply reduced or eliminated, because a small number of parts can be made on the fly, circumventing traditional industrial machinery that must make many thousands of widgets to be cost effective.The gas burners are well suited for 3 D printing because they're complex. Each has dozens of tiny holes Genuine Pandora Charms Clearance out of which flames shoot. The 3 D printer is uncannily precise, making the holes evenly spaced so all sides of a frying pan are heated equally, says ExOne CEO Kent Rockwell. Printers also make multisection pieces with odd twists and angles as easily as a simple square the printer just follows the design. With conventional manufacturing, the gas burner's two parts would have to be made separately and welded, adding time, labor and occasional errors.