People rarely believe without evidence. Manned flight before the Wright brothers was unthinkable. Galileo was accused of heresy for believing the Earth revolved around the sun. People like to see evidence, with actual results, tested under real conditions, before they believe. The fact is, very few people are inclined to become believers unless they have proof.
So when a new technology comes along, untried and untested, people are extremely sceptical. This scepticism might not apply to scientists, creators and inventors, but the challenge is always to communicate information to convince people – so they will believe and hence become adopters.
What has this got to do with 3D printing in 2020?
Well, until last year, many people were sceptical of the 3D printing industry, perhaps regarding it as quirky. Maybe you thought this too? But last year was the year when 3D printing and scanning hit the headlines worldwide because of the pandemic. An unprecedented worldwide crisis turned the world upside down. Existing systems and traditional processes in manufacturing and the traditional global supply chains were suddenly creaking under the strain.
But one industry that was relatively ‘under the radar’ for most people stepped up to the mark, and was severely tested under battle conditions. What’s more, it passed with flying colours.
Let’s take a closer look at how 3D printing impacted 2020.
The Global Pandemic and Traditional Manufacturing (Subtractive Manufacturing)
The pandemic prompted a worldwide health crisis. This created the following:
- A sudden huge demand for personal protection equipment (PPE), such as masks and face shields.
- Medical equipment, including breathing apparatus and relevant parts. This especially applies to silicone seals for breathing apparatus.
- PPE was not just needed in the medical profession, but by key workers, supermarket staff, first responders, care home staff… The list goes on and on.
- The world was in lockdown; transport by airfreight and shipping were not always practical.
- Normal ‘peacetime’ logistics and supply chains were not able to function and were too slow to react.
- Traditional manufacturing, logistics and supply were not able to supply quickly enough where the demand was highest.
The Reaction of the 3D Printing and Scanning Industry
The advantages of additive manufacturing (AM) soon became apparent. Medical devices and PPE could be designed quickly and effectively, and manufactured on demand and on location.
While major players in the 3D industry played their part, there was also collaboration between smaller businesses and even individuals to design and produce.
The pandemic saw an important interaction between social media and the 3D printing industry to produce PPE.
Drawings and designs for PPE equipment were shared on social media platforms. Specific questions and queries were asked on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and also on industry media channels.
Indeed specialist software was used (AWARIO) to collate all the different search terms and keywords made around the world.
As the whole 3D industry rallied round, from multinational companies to hobbyists, with designers and end producers collaborating from different locations around the world, new solutions began to emerge.
- Each country had slightly different requirements for their PPE. 3D printing could quickly adapt according to local demand. For example, one UK 3D printing company fulfilled a UK Government order for 7.6 million face shields.
- To a certain extent, transport logistics were less of an issue. Equipment could be designed in one country and printed (manufactured) in another!
- Specifications could be changed ‘on the fly’ to reflect changing demands and conditions on the battlefield.
- By use of technology and collaborative effort, product design, sanitisation issues, waste and disposal, printed material choice and process, national regulations and IP could all be solved with efficiency and speed.
Additional Developments in 3D Printing in 2020
One of the ways to assess relatively new markets and technology is to look at adoption rates.
AM adoption is growing steadily. The so-called early adopter industry sectors, like aerospace, medical and industrial products, continue to lead adoption and growth. However, adoption is also growing across other sectors. 2020 saw 3D printing make a quantum shift from hype to game changer.
It also shed the mantle of being a technology solely used for prototypes to a major manufacturing process in its own right. It is startling to think that currently 3D printing accounts for less than 1% of the global manufacturing output.
It is even more startling to think of the massive growth potential for the industry in the future.
In worldwide geographical terms, the US, UK, Germany, France and China lead the field as regards both adoption and capital investment.
3D Printing and Creative Solutions and Partnerships
3D printing lends itself to creative solutions that cross several barriers.
Engineers, designers and specialist teams can converse and collaborate, sharing information and ideas to produce innovative techniques and solutions. Commercial partnerships that offer mutual and reciprocal benefit are a key feature of the industry, as illustrated below.
GE Renewable Energy, COBOD and LafargeHolcim created a three-way consortium to build concrete towers for wind turbines used in renewable energy. The towers were over twice the normal height and the costs of transportation to site (using traditional methods) would have increased the capital cost exponentially. However, with AM this meant that they could be printed at the exact site location.
Furthermore they are predicted to produce 33% more energy than the existing towers. This has huge implications for the renewable energy industry!
One other high profile collaboration was between Airbus and Safran, which developed the very first 3D printed combustion chamber. This development was for the Prometheus aerospace engine and this came through stringent testing successfully in Germany.
To sum up, future generations will look back at 2020 as the year 3D printing really established itself and was road tested.
Would you like to know more about how 3D printing and scanning can help your business? Have you an idea or concept you would like to discuss?
If so, please contact Central Scanning. We are here to help you.