Innovation

Stratasys launches two new 3D printers, partners with Boeing and Ford on applications

New 3D printers will aid in making lightweight, customizable parts for the aerospace and automotive industries. Here's what it means for manufacturing.

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The new Stratasys Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator can make large parts for cars and planes.

Image: Stratasys

Two new 3D printers from Stratasys could revolutionize aerospace and automobile manufacturing, the company announced Wednesday. The machines represent the next step in large-scale 3D printing for manufacturing, which experts say will completely change the field in the next decade.

The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator and the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator expand the company's Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology across manufacturing to more efficiently build bigger, stronger, higher-quality parts.

Stratasys also partnered with Boeing to define the requirements and specifications for the Infinite-Build to meet their needs for customized flight parts. Ford Motor Company is also exploring the machine's abilities for car manufacturing, Stratasys announced.

Both the aerospace and automobile industries face pressure to continue to innovate and evolve—not only in performance, but in time to market, said Scott Sevcik, director of manufacturing platform development at Stratasys. Industry leaders are considering how to gain a competitive edge by offering a more differentiated passenger experience, whether in flight or on the road.

SEE: 3D printing: The smart person's guide

"These industries are looking strongly toward 3D printing as a critical enabler to meet those needs going forward," Sevcik said. "It offers the freedom of design, to be able to create parts that you could not make before with traditional processes."

The new machines further Stratasys' efforts in large-scale manufacturing with 3D printing. In June, the company announced a partnership with Toyota division Daihatsu, offering 10 different 3D printed designs and patterns that owners can customize for the Copen two-door convertible. While 3D printing has been used on a small scale for race car parts in the past, these projects represent the industry's first move into more mainstream auto manufacturing.

Rise of 3D printing manufacturing

The adoption of industrial 3D printing continues to grow, with global spending on printers reaching nearly $11 billion in 2015. Spending is predicted to rise to about $27 billion by 2019, according to International Data Corporation.

About two-thirds of US manufacturers are currently adopting 3D printing in some way, an April PricewaterhouseCoopers report found—roughly the same number as did in 2014. However, 51% are using it for prototyping and final products, compared to 35% two years ago. And, 52% of manufacturers expect 3D printing to be used for high-volume production in the next 3-5 years, compared to 38% in 2014.

"3D printing is going to lead to as much change in manufacturing as the Industrial Revolution did over the last 300 years," said Rick Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fast Radius, an on-demand manufacturing company backed by UPS. "For a larger and larger percentage of manufacturers, it makes sense to open up the full range of complexity, and to produce in smaller, customized batches." At the same time, cost will drop and quality will rise, making it even more appealing for mass market production, Smith added.

3D printing is starting to disrupt two main areas of manufacturing, Smith said. The first is complexity: These machines can design parts with any geometry that cannot be made in any other way. This allows for part consolidation, which reduces weight.

The second disruption is in the supply chain: The ability to print customizable parts on demand enables zero inventory. "You can shift from mass production followed by mass warehousing to on demand production in smaller quantities with customization," Smith said.

With more major companies investing in this technology, we can expect to see a dramatic acceleration of 3D printing adoption in industrial production in the next year, Smith said, and a complete change in production cycles in the next five to 10 years.

Large, customizable parts

Aerospace was one of the leading early adopters of 3D printing in manufacturing, due to the technology's ability to increase performance outcomes and reduce weight, Smith said. Now, many of the applications from the aerospace industry are bleeding into the automotive industry, where weight reduction and performance outcomes are also significant concerns.

The new Stratasys Infinite-Build produces large, customizable tools and production parts designed for accuracy, repeatability, and speed. "We're really going after the ability to do large, lightweight, thermoplastic parts with better mechanical processes on a repeatable basis," Sevcik said. Applications include customized interior panels for aircrafts and dashboards for cars.

The machine literally flips FDM on its side, allowing you to 3D print on a vertical plane instead of horizontally, without size limits. It also operates at a speed 10 times faster than previously possible, Sevcik said. It can change in and out different types of material, with process control embedded in the system.

Meanwhile, the Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator enables automation of high-value composite parts for the aerospace and automotive industries, but also for industries such as sporting goods. The machine includes an 8-axis motion system, which uses precise, directional material placement to build strength while reducing or eliminating support strategies—rare for this type of manufacturing, Sevcik said.

This machine is aimed at increasing the growth of composite parts, making them lighter and more fuel efficient. Stratasys partnered with Siemens to integrate extrusion technology with Siemens Industry Motion Control and Siemens PLM Software, hoping to ease the labor-intensive processes and remove size limitations for composite part creation.

"The ability to print on demand where you need it, when you need it, is a major driver for these industries and how they look at 3D printing," Sevcik said.

Both printers and other tools will be on display at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago from September 12-14, 2016.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. On Wednesday, Stratasys announced two new 3D printers to be used for manufacturing in the aerospace and automotive industries, with Boeing and Ford testing applications for them.
  2. 3D printing's use in industrial manufacturing continues to grow, as about two-thirds of US manufacturers are currently adopting 3D printing in some way, with more than half using it for prototyping and final products this year.
  3. New 3D printing machines can reduce the weight and increase the performance of parts for planes and cars by consolidating composite parts.

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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