SOUTHFIELD — Additive manufacturing — popularly known as 3D printing — is going to be the “third industrial revolution,” The Engineering Society of Detroit’s Affiliate Council learned at its monthly meeting Wednesday night.
3D printers can make fantastically detailed objects in an ever-increasing variety of materials, including many metals and even food and living tissue, said presenters Dann Holmes, business development manager at NSF International, and his son Matthew Holmes, a recent electrical engineering graduate from Michigan Technological University.
Additive manufacturing lets manufacturers start with nothing and build to a final product with little or no material waste, meaning more sustainable manufacturing. It allows for extremely complex designs, including hollow or lattice interiors, producing lighter products. It can work anywhere at any time, meaning no need for retooling, inventory or distribution costs.
Materials such as stainless steel, titanium, gold, silver, brass and bronze can be printed — usually in powdered form, using laser light to melt them. (That can cause offgassing of the 3D printer’s raw material, which can be toxic.) Ceramics, rubber-like compounds and more can also be used.
And even living cells can be printed, meaning a future that might include replacement parts for people.
Manufacturers may in the future make replacement part designs available to end users so they can print them at home, or perhaps at neighborhood centers.
Scientists are even getting into what’s called 4-D printing — materials with properties or shapes that depend on the conditions around them, such as being submerge din water or being exposed to hot or cold. They’re referred to as “self-assembling structures.”
American Standard is also using using 3D printing to make high-end home water faucets. They feature dozens of channels for water in a lattice design.
However, Dann Holmes cautioned: “Additive manufacturing has changed the way the game is played, but the rules of the game remain unchanged. Compliance to regulations and standards still applies” to 3D-printed products.
The technology is also not without risk. Competitors can do a 3D scan of a competitor’s product and use a 3D printer to make it. Terrorists might use the technology to produce weapons that are harder to detect.
NSF is deep into the technology due to its role as a certifier of a wide variety of household and commerical products. NSF is a non-governmental, non-profit public health and safety organization based in Ann Arbor, founded in 1944 as the National Sanitation Foundation and operated out of the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. It develops more than 80 international safety standards for water quality and safety, food safety, and indoor environments. It has more than 1,700 employees and laboratories in Ann Arbor, as well as China, the United kingdom, Canada, Brazil and Germany.
NSF and regulatory agencies want to make sure 3D printed products meet current safety and health standards.