Advances in materials and processes have expanded the scope of AM in industry. Materials such as plastics, metals and ceramics are being enhanced with new formulations to meet specific requirements. Companies are exploring high-performance materials that offer improved strength, durability and even conductive properties. Furthermore, the development of new printing processes, such as multi-material printing and bioprinting, is opening new possibilities for diverse industries.
With AM, companies can easily create bespoke products tailored to individual customer needs. From medical devices and consumer goods to automotive parts, AM enables mass customisation without incurring high set-up costs or sacrificing production efficiency.
3D printer, photopolymer and production parts manufacturer Photocentric is working with CPI (Centre for Process Innovation) to see if 3D printing techniques could be applied to solid-state battery technology. Conventional batteries contain a liquid electrolyte, which is often flammable and hazardous. Solid-state batteries contain a solid electrolyte, which is significantly safer; however, they are often expensive and have design limitations. The companies developed a functional 3D-printable ink formulation that could carry an electrical charge.
For battery and electric vehicle manufacturers, the ability to 3D-print batteries means boosted manufacturing efficiency alongside real freedom of form. This means that, rather than a vehicle’s design being constrained by the size and shape of a standard battery, the battery can be made to fit into a vehicle’s design. This could enable bespoke and high-performance EV battery applications where space is at a premium, for example in Formula E, wearables and drones. As development progresses, it is expected that this method of 3D-printing batteries could also result in reduced costs.
Robert Young, head of chemistry and batteries at Photocentric, said: “With CPI’s help, we now have a solid proof-of-concept that we’ve been able to move forward in the development process.”
The UV-curable formulations developed in the project could also be applied to the development of a wider range of inks for AM and roll-to-roll printing, for example electrically conductive inks for producing Internet of Things devices.
Another key advantage of AM is that it reduces reliance on global supply chains and enables on-demand production, mitigating the risks associated with transport delays, inventory management and excess stock. With 3D printing, manufacturers can produce parts closer to the point of use, reducing lead times and enabling just-in-time manufacturing.
Protolabs recently unveiled a manufacturing model that it said will help its customer base access advanced production capabilities, reduced part costs and higher volumes.
“Customers have told us that speed is still a priority when producing parts to support their product innovation or mitigate supply-chain pressures,” said Bjoern Klaas, vice-president of Protolabs Europe. “However, with the pressure of reduced budgets comes an increased demand for cost-efficient parts, particularly at higher volumes and longer lead times. Our digital network addresses that need.”
With advances in materials, processes and design optimisation, AM is transforming manufacturing practices and unlocking new possibilities across various sectors. As the industry embraces AM, it can expect increased innovation, reduced costs and enhanced product performance.
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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.