Monday, April 29, 2013

China: "3D printing---A new brick in the Great Wall"

Ya think this may have some far-flung implications? It's not just robots the Chinese are going after, it's the additive manufacturing end of the 3D biz, metal not plastic.Our second of three posts from The Economist today:

Additive manufacturing is growing apace in China

ALTHOUGH it is the weekend, a small factory in the Haidian district of Beijing is hard at work. Eight machines, the biggest the size of a delivery van, are busy making things. Yet the factory, owned by Beijing Longyuan Automated Fabrication System (known as AFS), appears almost deserted. This is because it is using additive-manufacturing machines, popularly known as three-dimensional (3D) printers, which run unattended day and night, seven days a week.

The printers require an occasional visit from a supervisor to top them up with the powdered materials they use as their “inks”, or to remove a completed item, but apart from that they can be left on their own. They build up the objects they are making one layer at a time, as the ink is sintered into place with a laser in a way that creates little waste and can make shapes impossible to achieve using the traditional “subtractive” technology of lathes, milling machines and cutting tools.

Though it is not yet ready for use in mass production (building things up is slower than trimming them down), 3D printing is excellent for making prototypes, customised jobs and short production runs, for there is no need to retool each time the specification changes. All that need be done is to alter the software that controls the print heads.

Western countries led the development of 3D printing, and the technique has been praised by Barack Obama as a way to revive America’s manufacturing industries. It may yet do so. But the extent to which that revival will be brought about by the return to America of production which has migrated to countries like China is harder to predict—for China has plans of its own.
Keep your powder dry

At the moment AFS is in the prototyping business. Its customers are mainly aerospace firms and vehicle-makers that need experimental designs turned into metal quickly. The powders in its machines’ hoppers are plastics, waxes and foundry sand. The results are sent off to foundries, where they are used to make moulds for the sand-casting of metal objects.

According to William Zeng, AFS’s deputy general manager, all the parts needed to make a prototype car engine can be printed and cast in this way in under two weeks. A conventional machine shop would need several months to do that—not least because many of the components would have to be made by hand.
AFS also has a second line of business. It sells the laser-sintering printers it makes to others, for this is a rapidly growing industry. And some of its machines, which cost up to 1.5m yuan (about $250,000), can do more than just sinter plastics, wax and sand; they can sinter metals directly....MORE
HT: Clusterstock 

Some of our recent posts on additive, sintering, etc:

3D: "The Difference Between Makers and Manufacturers"
3D Printer Co. ExOne Files for $75 Million IPO (XONE)
Stratasys as the Leader in the 3D Printing Industry (SSYS; DDD)
There is some European stuff, particularly in additive manufacturing but also in bioprinting, that SSYS will have to keep an eye on if they intend to be top dog.... 
Another Use for 3D Printing: Building A Beak for a Bald Eagle
Because the technology is only now ramping up (after a twenty year gestation) the results are still a bit crude.
As advances are made in sintering there will eventually be stuff made, not prototypes but actual stuff, from steel or copper or...

Two European companies — EOS of Germany and Arcam of Sweden are ahead of the pack in the metalworking part of the biz.... 
"3-D printed shoes that could help sprinters shatter records"
Yeah, yeah I know 3-D printing can create the vascular system an artificial liver would require.
This story is way cooler though. Look at the picture, with these things I'm Mercury:

For his final project at the Royal College of Art in London, Luc Fusaro outlined a process for building custom-fitting sprinting shoes that weigh just 96 grams.
Laser Sintered Shoes
The shoes are fabricated using a selective laser sintering process that uses precise 3-D scans of an athlete's foot to achieve maximum fit. The really tantalizing (but unfortunately uncited) bit about Fusaro's design is that by fitting shoes to a sprinter's feet so precisely, significant performance improvements might result...