Materials, Processes, Scale & SMS Technology
The 3D Printing industry is reputed to be worth over £2billion at present and has been growing at rates in excess of 10% PA for the last few years. It is, to not put too fine a point on it, the single biggest growth industry utilising resins and ‘new’ materials such as specialist alloys etc.
Sectors such as Aviation, Transportation, Medical, CE (consumer electronics) and Construction are all benefitting increasingly from the innovative use of additive manufacturing, from bridges to prosthetic limbs.
The simple idea that parts, prototypes and larger structures can bypass traditional manufacturing processes is one that could, and probably will, completely revolutionise the world around us.
So far so good. But – and there are several ‘but’s’ – the challenges ahead of the industry remain the same as they have for some time. Mass production, material expense, volume and speed to market remain stubborn barriers to one of this most innovative of sectors.
And it doesn’t end there. The ratio of plastic use vs metal has completely turned on its head over the last two years, with plastic dropping to 65% of total use and metal rising to match that number (from 28% in 2017). Which is great, until one realises that of one thousand commercially available steel casts across the globe, only seven are suitable for additive manufacturing. Metal powder is also currently x5 more expensive than the raw materials they are attempting to replace.
Mass production is constantly being attempted by the leading additive manufacturers, but failures are still in the ‘red zone’, meaning it’s still not economically viable for use at scale.
The other key issue is that of the raw materials required, as most are non-uniform and unstable, causing inconsistencies in end products. The knock-on effect of QA and regulatory challenges remains a sticking point. So we have an industry long on ideas but short on some critical elements.
Where do we at Sharc Matter fit in? Our aim is to help facilitate the adoption of innovative materials technologies – technologies that in the 3D Printing sector can accelerate, improve and ultimately futureproof the augmentation process. Our SMS product set supports the functionalisation of nanoparticles in a unique way, allowing substances & solutions to change their characteristics.
This in turn can then help develop machine parts and resins that are stronger, more durable, have greater stability under extreme temperatures, are easier to maintain (where retention of clean surfaces are an issue) and improved process consistency.
The natural conclusion to the use of SMS within additive manufacturing processes is the potential for quicker, more efficient and stable larger scale production. This can only become a reality once the materials and current process barriers have been overcome, and we believe our VitoNano-based SMS products could be the answer to achieving those goals.
Imperial College London