The nature of manufacturing is undergoing a fundamental shift. Thanks to additive manufacturing (AM), products or prototypes that used to take days or weeks to construct can now be completed in hours. Companies are beginning to wake up to the potential of AM, and are looking for ways to educate themselves about the technology, and to leverage the power of 3D printing.
In the US, NAMII is one center for innovation, education and development, but it isn’t the only place where there’s a focus on AM. Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility also provides research assistance, as well as opening access to industrial AM systems to a variety of businesses. Stratasys has formed a partnership with ORNL, and other companies are following its lead.
Currently, partnerships have been extended to 26 different industrial and academic institutions. The AM systems made available to these companies include laser sintering, direct metal deposition, polymer extrusion, and ultrasonic consolidation. Together, these different systems, each with their unique process, showcase the flexibility offered by AM.
Companies that partner with ORNL receive practical experience with AM, without the (sometimes hefty) expense of purchasing an AM system. This gives engineers and designers a chance to see how developing a product using 3D printing differs from more traditional subtractive methods. I’d expect that a taste of AM will be enough to encourage the partners to invest in their own AM systems, and help them to select the system that is the best fit for their work.
DeRoyal is a company that serves the medical industry, providing surgical and acute care, orthopedics, patient care, and wound care. By partnering with ORNL, the company is reducing energy and material costs by leveraging AM to produce orthopedic implant-related products.
“We entered the orthopedic implant business a few years ago,” DeRoyal CEO Brian DeBusk told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “For us, additive manufacturing is an opportunity to really rethink the way implants are designed and brought to market. It is not just an alternative way of manufacturing. It is an alternative way of development.”
DeRoyal is particularly interested in using AM to create custom hip and knee prosthetics. The company’s partnership with ORNL has given it a chance to develop new implants on an expedited schedule that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Other companies have similar stories. In each case, the availability of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility has driven new practices and increased productivity.
Below you’ll find a video about the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.