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Prototyping | product development


3D printing has put prototyping – or additive manufacturing – technology in the headlines. Peter Mapleston takes a closer look to fi nd out what this means for plastics component makers


Adding up the benefi ts


If you didn’t know what 3D printing was at the beginning of this year, you certainly should now. All the way from a Texas law student’s homemade ABS handgun, via RepRap machines that produce their own components, to President Obama’s call to create a network of manufacturing hubs to “guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America,” 3D printing is the hot topic of the year. One day, perhaps, every home will have a 3D printer.


But for now and – in the opinion of many experts – for some way well into the future, they will not. 3D printing, additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping or manufac- turing - call it what you will – is likely to remain principally an industrial process for some time to come. And if you think traditional CNC machining has had its day, you’re wrong there, too. Few injection moulding companies have additive


manufacturing (AM) equipment—we will call it AM because that is the term used by ASTM and ISO and many feel the rapid prototyping name is now simply out of date. But to be fair, few companies of any description have AM equipment – it’s still very much a minority interest (see the box story on page 26 for some numbers). Rather like bioplastics, it grabs the headlines but it’s very much a niche. While some major injection moulding companies use


www.injectionworld.com


AM bureaux, most moulders do not. That can be put down to a combination of factors. Some view AM as a rival technology, and indeed it can be in some situa- tions. Some see it as expensive, and it is true that the equipment is not cheap. Many others don’t use it simply because, at their position in the production chain, any AM has already been done. AM technology and markets specialist Terry Wohlers


– founder of Wohlers Associates – says that in the plastics processing industry, the technology will continue to be used fi rstly to help refi ne a design before making a mould, and secondly to communicate that design to those quoting to make the mould or produce the parts. Where AM will really score is in areas like aerospace and medical, which require very specialized parts (metal as well as plastic), in geometries that are diffi cult if not impossible to create by traditional means, and are required in relatively limited quantities where


Left: Star produced this


working prototype for cooking


products maker Nomiku


October 2013 | INJECTION WORLD 25


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