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Additive Manufacturing Is the Wave of the Future

Posted by Ben Harrison on Sep 24, 2012 10:30:00 AM
Ben Harrison

On March 8, 2012, the White House announced a new proposal for a $1-billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. This network will include up to fifteen Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation that will serve as regional hubs of manufacturing excellence to improve the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing.

A three-year, $60-million pilot institute will be also launched with funding support from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce and the National Science Foundation. The pilot program will focus on additive manufacturing—processes such as 3D printing (stereolithography, or SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS)—both of which can be used with resins.

“The White House presented three broad areas of opportunity, one of which is 3D additive manufacturing,” says Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a firm that provides strategic consulting on rapid product development and additive manufacturing. “This is big and is likely the first time any administration in Washington has acknowledged the existence of the technology. The announcement underscores the importance of refining standards, materials, and equipment for 3D printing to enable low-cost, small-batch production using digital designs that can be transmitted from designers located anywhere.”

The other two areas of opportunity cited by the White House are development of lightweight materials, such as low-cost carbon fiber composites, and creating a smart manufacturing infrastructure that makes real-time use of “big data” flow from fully-instrumented plants in order to maximize productivity and lower costs. Advances in both of these areas can help additive manufacturing achieve even larger gains.

Additive manufacturing technologies are becoming more prevalent in manufacturing, especially for building prototypes within a matter of weeks. Two popular techniques are SLA and SLS, which use lasers to fuse together microlayers of photopolymer resins or other materials to form a solid part—all based on dimensions created from a 3D CAD file.

As additive manufacturing technologies continue to improve through private-sector research and R&D at National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, operational costs will come down and the ability to build completely functional, ready-to-go final products will become more competitive with the traditional approach of machining and tooling. These gains will also make U.S. manufacturing more competitive with offshore locations. In the coming years molding companies like Kaysun that are experienced with both additive manufacturing technologies and multiple injection-molding technologies will provide the most flexibility and value to clients who are looking for the most innovative solutions for their product needs.

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