It is possible to use many different materials to create 3D-printed objects. AM technology fabricates jet engine parts from advanced metal alloys, and it also creates chocolate treats and other food items.
Thermoplastic polymers remain the most popular class of additive manufacturing materials. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA) and polycarbonate (PC) each offer distinct advantages in different applications. Water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is typically used to create temporary support structures, which are later dissolved away.
Many different metals and metal alloys are used in additive manufacturing, from precious metals like gold and silver to strategic metals like stainless steel and titanium.
A variety of ceramics have also been used in additive manufacturing, including zirconia, alumina and tricalcium phosphate. Also, alternate layers of powdered glass and adhesive are baked together to create entirely new classes of glass products.
Biochemical healthcare applications include the use of hardened material from silicon, calcium phosphate and zinc to support bone structures as new bone growth occurs. Researchers are also exploring the use of bio-inks fabricated from stem cells to form everything from blood vessels to bladders and beyond.
Additive manufacturing applications
Additive manufacturing is already used to produce an impressive array of products — everything from food creations to jet engine parts.
AM excels at producing parts with weight-saving, complex geometric designs. Therefore, it is often the perfect solution for creating ight, strong aerospace parts.
In August 2013, NASA successfully tested an SLM-printed rocket injector during a hot fire test that generated 20,000 pounds of thrust. In 2015, the FAA cleared the first 3D-printed part for use in a commercial jet engine. CFM’s LEAP engine features 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles. At the 2017 Paris Air Show, FAA-certified, Boeing 787 structural parts fabricated from titanium wire were displayed, according to Aviation Week.
CNN reported that the McLaren racing team is using 3D-printed parts in its Formula 1 race cars. A rear wing replacement took about 10 days to produce instead of five weeks. The team has already produced more than 50 different parts using additive manufacturing. In the auto industry, AM’s rapid prototyping potential garners serious interest as production parts are appearing. For example, aluminum alloys are used to produce exhaust pipes and pump parts, and polymers are used to produce bumpers.
At the New York University School of Medicine, a clinical study of 300 patients will evaluate the efficacy of patient-specific, multi-colored kidney cancer models using additive manufacturing. The study will examine whether such models effectively assist surgeons with pre-operative assessments and guidance during operations.
Global medical device manufacturing company Stryker are funding a research project in Australia that will use additive manufacturing technology to create custom, on-demand 3D printed surgical implants for patients suffering from bone cancer.
In general, healthcare applications for additive manufacturing are expanding, particularly as the safety and efficacy of AM-built medical devices is established. The fabrication of one-of-a-kind synthetic organs also shows promise.
As the potential for AM’s design flexibility is realized, once impossible design concepts are now being successfully re-imagined. Additive manufacturing unleashes the creative potential of designers who can now operate free of the constraints under which they once labored.