This is a guest contribution by Vasilii Kiselev, Founder and CEO at Top3DGroup
Even in 2021, 3D printing is sometimes still shocking the public: things from bridges to cars can be produced using additive manufacturing.
Of course, people are getting used to the new technology but 3D printing is still making waves. The tech used by manufacturers to reduce weight of the products and save money. But the experimental things are even more impressive, since they often push the technology to the limits.
3D Printed Steel Bridge
This pedestrian bridge was shown at Dutch Design Week 2018. It was manufactured by MX3D and will one day be installed in the city of Amsterdam (the bridge is still undergoing rigorous testing). The project took 4 years to complete but the company claims that the process of manufacturing can be repeated in less than 6 months. The bridge is 39 feet (12 meters) long and was initially supposed to be 3D printed on site right over the water. The plan was changed due to logistical and environmental reasons. Instead, the bridge was manufactured at the company’s plants using robotic manipulators and welding equipment.
3D Printed Houses
There were some new experiments that covered the use of 3D printing in construction. A young company named Icon claimed in March 2018 that it can 3D print a 645 square feet (60 square meters) residential building in just 12-24 hours. The first house printed using Icon technology was shown at the SXSW in Austin, Texas. In October 2018, the company mentioned financing of $9 million to expand their 3D printing projects. Eindhoven University of Technology put 3D printed houses on sale in later years, and the first of those got tenants in 2021.
It was not the first attempt to 3D print habitable buildings. Some of the early mentions date back to 2012. But at the time the engineers encountered problems such as equipment failure and wall drying. The experts are slowly overcoming the obstacles but the list of them is still long.
A Millionth BMW Part
While 3D printing is still looking for a stable place in manufacturing, some of the leading automotive and aerospace companies are actively using the technology. In 2018, BMW produced their millionth (since 2010) mass-produced part (to be exact, this is the windows guide for BMW i3 Roadster, the component is 3D printed using a HP device). BMW has been using 3D printing since 1990 for rapid prototyping and part design but using 3D printing for manufacturing is something relatively new: BMW has been doing so since 2010.
In November 2018, a new 3D printing system was sent to the ISS using a launch vehicle. There’s one interesting feature of the system: the Refabricator can recycle old plastic filament into a new material instead of requiring more. The majority of operations are controlled from Earth during the tests.
The tests provided an important experience of using 3D printing in space. Recyclable plastics used by astronauts can limit the amount of needed material which in turn will make it possible for longer spaceflight.
Plastic Objects that Monitor themselves
The experts of the University of Washington used 3D printing to produce the objects such as vials and prostheses that can send the data about their usage without requiring batteries.
The antennae are integrated into 3D printed objects and are activated when a model is moving in a certain way. For example, when a pill vial is opened or closed. The signals change triggers sending the data. The scientists are sure that their system will improve the technologies making possible to monitor how the things are used. The objects are water-resistant and don’t require batteries.
The next task is to make the prototypes more lightweight so they can be integrated into everyday items.