Industry 4.0 – The Future of Additive Manufacturing
Additive (Manufacturing) technology offers the ability to produce personalized products with lower development costs, shorter lead times, less energy consumed during manufacturing and less material waste. It can be used to manufacture complex parts, and enables manufacturers to reduce inventory, make products on-demand, create smaller localized manufacturing environments, and even reduce supply chains.
This quite impressive “performance record” of Additive Manufacturing (AM) is one of the reasons why this technology is supposed to experience steep growth in the future. According to a study on AM published by Roland Berger in 2016, the AM market is expected to grow by up to 40% p.a. between 2015 and 2020, reaching a global market size of approximately €16.6bn. AM will be found in all kinds of industries from aerospace to consumer products, but two industries will deliver the most disruptive application of AM: healthcare and space.
AM is becoming more and more important in operating rooms. It will allow for the onsite creation of tailor made implants for patients that are directly implanted in the patient in the hospital. Nevertheless this will be only the beginning of AM healthcare applications in the medical world. The most disruptive application of AM therein will be bioprinting.
Bioprinting is understood as the production of (customized) human organs and transplants. Bioprinters artificially construct living tissue by outputting living cells layer upon layer in a three dimensional structure. Bioprinted tissue is already used in drug toxication tests nowadays, saving money and the health of test subjects during clinical trials.
Experts expect the first fully printed human organs to be ready by the year 2030. AM could save thousands of lives every year, given that the donation of human organs is decreasing in many countries due to some misuse in the past. In Germany alone every 3rd individual is dying because of the fact that a matching organ cannot be found for transplantation.
The second sector that could vastly benefit from AM is space-based applications. NASA and Made In Space Inc. announced in December 2014 that they had created the first 3D-printed part in space using a 3D printer installed on the International Space Station (ISS).
Since NASA and other space agencies are either discussing or are already planning the exploration of our solar system including the setup of colonies on the moon and human trips to Mars, AM becomes more and more important. It can vastly improve space-based activities. Given the fact that all hardware to be implemented at the ISS has to meet limitations set by the rigors of space launch and the vessels used for their transportation, AM could overcome these limits by transferring the production of hardware to their destination.
The following space-based applications are feasible:
- Replacement components: experience shows that most failures on the ISS involve plastics and composites, which could be replaced onsite by AM made replacements
- Recycling in space: AM could make use of plastic and other waste to be recycled
- Creation of structures difficult to produce on or to be shipped from earth: It can produce parts and structures that do not conform to weight and volumetric constraints imposed by launch fairings and transportation vessels
- Creation of sensors and satellites: AM could potentially enable in-space production of entire multi-material systems and sub-systems
- Free flying fabrication labs: this lab would be equipped with an array of flexible computer controlled tools, including 3D printers to manufacture parts and components needed in space, being independent from deliveries from earth.
Some experts even foresee that AM could help to produce habitats for human beings e.g. on the moon. Nevertheless some major challenges will have to be mastered to arrive at the scenarios described. This comprises answers to the conditions set by the space environment, namely microgravity and vacuum, the thermal environment, product testing and quality, the stability of the manufacturing platform, communication (e.g. data and telemetry), power supply and autonomy.
All visionary applications for Additive Manufacturing have one thing in common: They will change the way of working and therefore also the business model. The manufacturing of goods will be transferred from the OEM to the customer and/or the point of use. This will, at least for some manufacturing companies, suggest the need to focus their activities on R&D and “engineering to order” and to leave the physical production of the goods to their customers or the point of use. This will also change the manufacturing structures we are used to. Manufacturing sites will diminish or be closed. Manufacturing capacities will be transferred to customers and/or partners.