For many years, 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been touted as a potential game-changing technology. But it has not yet been able to achieve that promise. Part of the reason may be that 3-D printing typically is too slow to make anything except small batches for niche products like dental implants or hearing aid shells, or unique components for larger products that don't require fast, mass production.
But a recent article in the MIT Technology Review ("Could This Machine Push 3-D Printing into the Manufacturing Big Leagues?") says that a new additive manufacturing technology could be fast enough and cheap enough to make it a serious competitor to more conventional manufacturing methods.
The new method, called "high-speed sintering," uses an infrared lamp and ink-jet print head to melt and fuse thin layers of powdered polymer together. This method is believed to be faster and less expensive than an earlier one that involved a single-point laser.
Neil Hopkinson, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, has demonstrated that this method works on a small scale and is now working with the British government and a few industrial partners to create a larger-scale model of the machine. Hopkinson believes that if it works, it will be cost-competitive with injection-molding for making small, complex plastic parts.
Printing giant Hewlett-Packard reportedly is also developing a similar technology, called Multi Jet Fusion.
If these new technologies do live up to expectations, 3-D printing may actually revolutionize the parts distribution supply chain by enabling local, on-demand production.
The full article can be read here.