Image: A complex light fitting created using 3D printing technology. Credit: Ursula Skjonnemand

It was a big week for 3D printing – or additive manufacturing (AM) as it’s known when scaled up and enhanced in an industrial context.

President Barak Obama spoke of  its revolutionary potential. A consortium of the big – NASA, IBM, Carnegie Mellon University, Boeing and others are adding to the pot.

Meanwhile in Brisbane on the 13th of February a daylong forum on additive manufacturing was held at the State Library’s The Edge.

Queensland’s burgeoning capacity to utilise the technology was being explored, showcased and celebrated.

So much optimism.

Yet it is hard to ignore the constant refrain that Australian manufacturing is in distress.

In just  one report,  the words ailing, distress, dire straits and survive are used to characterise Australia’s manufacturing industry. And this was a refrain at the forum.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced a package of one billion dollars for the relief of this distress. Unlike President Obama’s recognition of the AM trend and despite the use of the term innovation Australia seems poised for more of the same.

No emphasis on additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

What is 3D printing? Here’s an ultra short video answer.

And here is the Wikipedia definition: “Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).”

Hearing aids are already a product of AM and being printed in their millions.

Customised crowns and dental bridges are being printed out by innovative dentists.

Jewellers are using both the simpler robot hot glue gun printers on their desks and exploring the complexities of other AM processes such as laser sintering and laser metal deposition.

There are 3D printers in primary schools.

You can email a file with your 3D design  to an online service. They will print it and return the object within days.

Designers of jewellery, students and staff, at the Queensland College of Art have a printing service which returns their beautiful objects within 4 days.

Dr Jennifer Loy from that College of Art at Griffith University, and a PhD in Industrial Design, told the well-informed gathering of local and international folk that, “we all needed to have a 3D printer on our desks to get the whole thing going”.

Dr Loy runs the 3D Design major at Griffith and is a member of the Transformative Technologies Research  Study Group.

She sees the revolutionary potential for the re-localisation of manufacturing by using additive manufacturing.

The Additive Manufacturing Forum was a cooperative venture. Griffith University Queensland College of Art, Belgian innovator i.materialise, Queensland’s own innovation network Q-WIN, QMI Solutions and The Edge contributed expertise, organisation, technology and examples.

Dr Sara Eastwood, Senior Research Specialist at QMI Solutions, informed us that Australian manufacturing costs are 1.5 times those in the US alone. Just on cost factors she says we need to embrace innovative processes such as additive manufacturing.

These innovative technologies will be disruptive and transformative according Dr Swee Mak Director, Future Manufacturing Flagship at the CSIRO.

They will catalyse new industries using new materials.

Dr Mak highlighted the role of design in facing the challenges of global competition during the transformation of manufacturing.

Sustainability, agility, flexibility and speed are some of the characteristics of companies which have made the transition.

Ferra Engineering, an innovative firm from Tingalpa in suburban Brisbane serves local and overseas defence and aerospace companies including NASA, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, was awarded Boeing Supplier of the Year for 2011 in the International Category.

Ferra used titanium deposition, an advanced additive manufacturing technique in which the metal is layered in the form required using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) package.

Wim Michiels from i.materialise spoke of art, fashion and design. He had arrived via Shanghai where a showcase of printed objects displaying high-end design were testing the Chinese market.

Additively manufactured fashion is being showcased globally.

“Why,” Wim Michiels asked, “use additive manufacturing?”

“What are the drivers? Great ideas, costs, carbon footprint and uniqueness.”

Unique structures can be formed during customization of prosthetic and other medical devices. The functional integration of a 3d printed titanium lower jaw into the skull of an 83 year old woman is indicative of the trend.

Complexity, said several contributors, is now free. Complexity is no longer a barrier to development and innovation.

They also all agreed that we were at the cusp of the second industrial revolution.

It was pointed out that with new materials and new processes being employed in rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing familiar business models are likely to require a rethink.

If, for example, you can go to your car dealership and have that car part printed while you wait or perhaps print it at home on your own device, the necessity to manage large inventories is rendered obsolete.

And coming to a desk near you – the domestic 3D printer – soon. Design, customise and print the objects in you life. Be your own manufacturer.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported.

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3 Comments Leave a comment
  • Peter Macinkovic

    Love that 3D printing is taking off in a practical sense. It would soon more production towards a more lean manufacturing methodology in which supply can actually match demand.

    No more making too much or not enough of something. No more scarcity heuristics nor abundance dictating value of a product – removing complex factors from pricing.

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