Rapid Manufacturing: The
Over the past few years, the term “rapid manufacturing” has gained
acceptance. It is generally used to refer to the direct production of
finished goods using additive fabrication (AF) techniques. The idea is to
use freeform additive processes to deliver end-use parts directly from
The real key to rapid manufacturing is the elimination of molds, dies, and
other forms of tooling, and the consequent eradication of manufacturing
restrictions that tooling presents. Other than the time and cost savings
that occur, a host of benefits are created that are only now being
explored and understood. The rapid manufacturing processes themselves are
the enablers for radically different approaches to design, manufacturing,
and supply chain management, as well as product sales and distribution.
Each year, Wohlers Associates surveys many organizations from around the
world. This year, 29 AF system manufacturers and 56 AF service providers
responded. These 85 companies provided information based on knowledge of
their customers—an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 total organizations
worldwide. The responses were used to help prepare the information in the
graph at http://wohlersassociates.com/rmgrowth.html.
This graph shows the rapid manufacturing sales activity at these
companies. As you can see, sales rose from 9.6% last year to 11.7% this
year. The outcome of this survey is evidence that rapid manufacturing
continues to grow in popularity. Also, the results support the belief that
rapid manufacturing is the next frontier in AF technology.
Note: The previous information was excerpted from Wohlers Report 2007, a
220-page global study that focuses on the advances in 3D printing, rapid
prototyping, additive fabrication, and rapid manufacturing worldwide. A
detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the
market and industry, are available at http://wohlersassociates.com.
Wohlers Talk: Layer-at-Once Plastic
Sintermask Technologies AB of Sweden (formerly Speed Part) has developed a
process called Selective Mask Sintering that sinters an entire layer of
plastic powder at once. The company uses glass-filled nylon powder, an
infrared lamp, and masks to produce each layer. The masks are generated
using a Xerox photocopying process. The masks represent the inverse of the
cross sections being produced. The time to produce a layer is 10-20
seconds, which is fast. Using an IR lamp instead of a laser and
galvanometer significantly reduces cost. The current system builds parts
up to 300 x 210 x 500 mm (11.8 x 8.3 x 19.7 inches) and sells for
€149,000 (~$203,000). Parts from the system are impressive.
Loughborough University (England) is also working on a layer-at-once
plastic sintering process. It is called High Speed Sintering and it jets
dark liquid (likely black ink) onto the surface of white nylon powder. The
darkened regions represent the cross section that is to be sintered. The
surface is then exposed to IR radiation. The dark regions are sintered
because they absorb much more heat than the white regions, which is a
As these processes are refined, they could impact the sales of laser
sintering machines due to their potential speed and cost advantages.
Loughborough University has not yet commercialized its process, but Speed
Part sold its first three systems last year. It will be interesting to
watch the development of these two systems.
Note: Wohlers Talk is a blog that offers views, perspective, and
commentary related to rapid product development and a wide range of other
topics. More than 120 commentaries have been published since February
2003. To view them, visit http://wohlersassociates.com/blog.
The Custom Manufacturing
"The Custom Manufacturing MegaTrend: Where China and the West Fit
In" will be held on December 7 at EuroMold 2007 in Frankfurt,
Germany. This ninth annual international conference will concentrate on
the growing number of opportunities in custom, replacement part, and
short-run manufacturing and the role of China, Europe, and other parts of
the world. The event is being co-sponsored by DEMAT, the organizers of
EuroMold, and Wohlers Associates. To view the conference program, go to http://wohlersassociates.com/custom.pdf.
Email briefings are distributed 3-4 times annually. Request
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