3D printing in metal is going to allow more innovation and products to be designed and changed quickly, taking it beyond the limited industries it is confined to at present.
This is the view of Matt Burris, the CEO of MatterFab, who is trying to bring metal 3D printing to a larger range of applications and industries.
He said that the technique, which involves building up metal structures layer-by-layer, will not have a specific singular use but can be applied to many different scenarios.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a main application, that’s the advantage of additive manufacturing overall, that you are free from a lot of the traditional manufacturing processes,” he said.
At present 3D metal printing is mostly used for printing aircraft components, engine parts and items such as false teeth.
But this market will expand massively in coming years.
“We realised if you can 3D print a part that can go in to a jet engine which is an incredible application, that there’s not going to be a whole lot of limitation on what you can print.
“The question really is around the economics. Can you make a part with a 3D printer affordable enough to replace other manufacturing techniques – so that’s where we wanted to focus.”
Burris said that using the 3D printing method will always provide limitations such as speed and scale at which things can be printed. However, these will change with time as the technology progresses Burris said.
The question of 3D printing larger objects is one of the challenges that faces all different types of 3D printing as, at present, the printer has to be bigger than the item it is creating.
Burris says that this limitation, and the others, will change in time: “So there’s a sweet spot in additive manufacturing and it is going to change over time as machines get faster and faster, but that is going to be one of those limitations on the size of any part that you actually make,” he said.
“It all ties back in to the economics around making that part. If it is not cost effective to use additive manufacturing they are going to find a different process to do on scale production. For prototyping it is going to be the go-to tool for an incredibly long time.”
MatterFab is trying to build a platform that will not only replace traditional manufacturing, but one that will build upon it and make the processes faster.
At present the company is in the process of completing the construction of their printer and its systems, with the view to more testing by third-parties in the coming months.
Burris said: “The next few months for us is about finalising the design for our system and putting it in the hands of some early test partners, so we can get some feedback and really lock down the design of the system and make sure it is something that fits in the manufacturing environment.”