3D Printing: Advancements in 3D printing

The 3D-printing market is escalating and as adoption steadily increases, the total 3D printing market will continue to double in size every three years, according to market reports. Against this backdrop, various new materials are being introduced to keep pace with the growth.

Trends in 3D printing

Additive manufacturing/3D printing is growing in the plastics processing sector. Where once it was limited to prototyping and batch production, today it is beginning to be used for the manufacture of complex parts.

According to MarketsandMarkets, the global 3D printing market size was US$9 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach US$34 billion by 2024. Factors such as ease in development of customised products, reduction in manufacturing cost and process downtime, government investments in 3D printing projects, and development of new industrial-grade 3D printing materials are driving the growth of the 3D printing industry. Currently, the trend in the 3D printing applications is shifting from prototyping to functional part manufacturing in various verticals, such as automotive, medical, aerospace, and consumer goods.

The total value of 3D-printed parts increased 300% in 2019, moving away from the highvolume, low-value consumer market in favour of professional users’ workflows, says a report by 3D Hubs, a Dutch online manufacturing platform. It adds that in 2019 alone, a record amount of US$1.1 billion was raised by 3D-printing startups, with applications of 3D printing attracting the largest number of investors.

In terms of regions, North America and Europe are leading in online 3D printing, with more than 95% of global demand, while US accounts for nearly 50% of the global online 3D printing demand.

Set up in 2013, 3D Hubs has raised more than US$30 million and produced more than 4 million parts, using various manufacturing technologies, including CNC machining, 3D printing, injection moulding and sheet metal fabrication. The report, 3D Printing Trends 2020, includes insights from the company’s own order database and a review of news and market analyst reports.

Effective shoe manufacturing with 3D printing

The manufacture of a shoe requires a multitude of work steps, some of which are carried out by hand. This makes production time-consuming and expensive. In the finished product, various materials are sewn together and glued together, so that it is virtually impossible to recycle them by type at the end of their useful life.

Using 3D printing, shoes could be made from only two parts – upper and sole. German materials firm Covestro has developed a material that enables automated production at lower cost and complete recyclability of the finished shoe.

3D Printing: Advancements in 3D printing

A powder and a filament, both based on thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), proved to be the material of choice for meeting all the above requirements. The plastic offers high rebound and abrasion resistance and is therefore ideally suited for the production of both shoe parts. In addition, the shoe can later be recycled in a single step, including the polyurethane adhesive used for production – an important milestone towards recycling. Old shoes are thus turned into filaments for new shoes.

3D printing via film extrusion

Thermoplastic films can be processed much more efficiently using 3D printing rather than filaments. This is the result of a new development from Covestro.

“The throughput of a print head for films is significantly higher than that of a print head for filaments,” explains Jonas Kuenzel, Technical Development for additive manufacturing, Covestro. “In addition, the production of the films is more cost-effective than filament production, and their storage requires less space. Compared to the standard filament production, extruded films also provide a higher precision, with virtually no deviations in film thickness. The use of films also opens up completely new possibilities for the combination of materials.”

Covestro says it has developed a special print head for additive manufacturing using these semi-finished products, which can easily replace a conventional print head. The film passes through a cooled area into a heating zone, where it melts under the influence of the supplied thermal energy and becomes liquid. As usual, the melt is discharged via a defined nozzle geometry and processed into the product.



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