3D Printing

3D Printing a Must for Manufacturers, But Challenges Exist

3D printing will deliver a revolution to the manufacturing industry, but implementing the technology is still filled with challenges, according to Robert Hassold, founder and CEO of Cimquest, Inc., who was the keynote speaker at last night’s New Jersey Technology Manufacturing Association (NJTMA) meeting in Kenilworth.

The challenges include cost of the printers, cost of the materials, speed, accuracy and surface finishing. However, Hassold said that 3D printing will significantly change manufacturing and that companies should prepare for the revolution or become obsolete.

Today, 3D printing technology is better suited for creating prototypes, pilot projects and small runs, but “it will be a big part of the production space,” Hassold said. “It will not be the be all and end all, but don’t argue that 3D printing will not grow exponentially.”

Industries that are excelling in the use of 3D printing technologies are aerospace and medical devices because of the more customized nature of the parts these respective industries create. Hassold also said that nature is the best manufacturer, citing palm trees that can withstand hurricane force winds or the human femur that can withstand thousands of pounds of pressure, but he said that producing complex geometric shapes via additive manufacturing (the way 3D printers create by adding layer upon layer of a plastic, metal or concrete material, for example), coupled with topology optimized design will enable manufacturers to create more flowing and natural designs.

3D printing will also reduce the number of parts needed in a manufactured product. For example, a “widget” that may have been comprised of eight parts, may now be comprised of one single part. It can also be 40 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger, Hassold explained as an example.

Tom Kohler, NJTMA president, said another benefit of 3D printing in manufacturing is that it reduces raw material waste because “you are not taking a slab of metal and honing it down to create your product. With 3D printing, you are building up from nothing.”

Meanwhile, David Macfie, director of 3D printer sales at Cimquest, a Branchburg-based engineering company that sells 3D printers and printing services, said that today, “there is no one perfect 3D printing technology. There are a lot of processes out there with their own strength and weaknesses.” For that reason, Cimquest deals with half a dozen vendor technologies.”

Delivering a bit of history on the subject, he said that 3D printing has been around for a number of decades, but it was better known as rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing (terms still used today). “The argument is whether the technology is injection- or extrusion-based,” he said.

NJTMA holds quarterly meetings on topics of interest to its 90 members. Last night’s meeting also featured a presentation by Kathy Warren, president and CEO of Bryant Staffing, on the New Jersey Paid Sick Leave Act, which goes into effect next month.

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