Customized Vehicles, On-Site Medical 3D Printing, and Green Lasers—All at TIPE 2022

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Additive manufacturing (AM) experts, emerging leaders, and industry professionals explored the evolving ecosystem of the 3D printing industry during the three-day Technology, Industry, People, and Economics (TIPE) 2022 event organized by Woman in 3D Printing (WI3DP). With a focus on case studies, additive manufacturing user applications, visionary talks on the future, and people shaping the industry, TIPE 2022 embraced an all-women agenda of speakers and panelists. Live-streaming from January 18 through 20 marked the second year of the global AM event, encouraging anyone interested in advanced manufacturing technology to join the conversation.

With four tracks running simultaneously and almost nonstop, it was hard to choose which one to listen to at any given time. All 27 events, panels, and discussions centered around the industry track in particular, aimed at inspiring visitors through a wide range of themes, from entrepreneurship and innovation to digital transformation in industries like automotive, aerospace, and fashion. There was something for everyone, and we chose to highlight three talks from the event that show how use cases are advancing the technology in key industries.

Addressing the importance of scaling for production in automotive and emphasizing the need to simplify supply chains, Ford’s Technical Leader in AM, Ellen Lee, said that ever since the inaugural TIPE conference in 2021, Ford has implemented new use cases for the technology. The engineer who has been with the company for over 23 years highlighted how leveraging the design freedom for customization and series production parts provides the biggest opportunities for value creation.

Speaking on the new use cases for customization, Lee said Ford is starting to design its vehicles with a customer-centric focus. For example, with the brand’s reintroduced Bronco designed to be modular, the brand offers customers hundreds of accessories, many of which have been 3D printed. Much like the new Shelby Mustang (a high-performance variant of the Mustang), Ford will use its 3D printing capabilities to open up a unique range of customization to the SUV, creating parts and components that will fit the buyers’ specifications, like 3D printed titanium parts. Moreover, tapping into the $325 billion aftermarket arena means new possibilities in customizing vehicles for off-roading, overlanding, trail driving, and even racing. Since many of these parts are done in-house, Ford is saving thousands of dollars by reducing the part cost in the application.

Other developments for Ford include publishing the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) roadmap for automotive AM, a collaborative effort to better understand and communicate the opportunities and pathways for more widespread, efficient, and sustainable use of AM in automotive production plants. As well as new use cases for sustainability in powder bed processing, as Ford is working to reduce the waste for powders that cannot be reused back into the process again.

“We’ve taken PA12 from waste powders as well as old parts, and recycled them into injection molded fuel line clips that go into our F-series super duty trucks to improve sustainability,” said Lee.

Automotive session with Ford's Ellen Lee.

Automotive session with Ford’s Ellen Lee. Image courtesy of TIPE 2022.

Like automotive, healthcare is another area where AM continues to thrive. Enlightening audiences about her experience tackling the regulatory hurdles for 3D printing in healthcare, Rebecca Murray, a Senior Research Fellow of Biofabrication for Urology at the Herston Biofabrication Institute in Australia, said providing point-of-care manufacture of personalized medical devices, like 3D anatomical models to clinics within a 24-48 hour time frame was challenging.

After working for over a decade in groundbreaking AM projects, like the first ceramic medical implanted 3D printed device during her time at CeramTec, or working on cold spray technology to design, print, and test parts on the field with the Australian Department of Defence, Murray has been focusing on creating anatomical models for one of the largest public hospital and health service providers in Queensland, the Metro North Hospital and Health Service.

Discussing the long term process needed to conform to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) regulations, Murray pointed out that since 3D printed models have become a Class IIA patient-matched medical device in February 2021, she has to make sure they meet the essential principles, be produced under a quality assurance framework and basically set up the entire system needed to make them from scratch. Furthermore, with thousands of pages of regulation to go through, the documentation process is critical, explains Murray.

Increased regulatory requirements for 3D printed anatomical models affect all health services in Australia, says Murray, and because they don’t have the system set up, it is a significant hurdle to overcome. However, Murray recommends anyone going through this process that documentation and evidence through case studies are essential, as well as building consensus frameworks. The process is extensive and iterative, but it’s imperative because 3D anatomical models are high risk, so every part of the process is important, she stated.

To overcome the regulatory hurdles, Murray came up with a technical framework that plans out the whole process. Although the team has until 2024 to get the manufacturing mechanism up and running, Murray is already supplying Metro North’s clinical departments with patient-matched anatomical models for case studies.

Rebecca Murray talks about regulation hurdles for 3D printed models.

Rebecca Murray talks about regulation hurdles for 3D printed models during TIPE 2022 event. Image courtesy of TIPE 2022.

Finally, Las Vegas-based industry manager for TRUMPF’s aerospace and medical segments, Eliana Fu, understands the importance of innovation. During her panel entitled “Green Laser Applications,” she suggests that green lasers are the “best-kept secret in the AM industry.” TRUMPF has dabbled in some mission-critical applications, like rocket engines or spacecraft parts, and luxury goods like jewelry and art. Developed from the traditional laser cutting and welding, green lasers, when applied to 3D printing, have a lot of benefits, says Fu, including shorter lead times, less waste, better surface finish, and density.

“Green lasers are suitable for highly reflective materials, like copper, aluminum, gold, platinum, uranium, silver, and palladium. Using a shorter wavelength in the visible spectrum of light, more of the laser energy is used and not reflected away. Green lasers are ideal for applications in space exploration, where we have done initial green laser DED trials with GR-Cop 42––a material developed by NASA specifically for rocket engines––for products like cylinders and rocket nozzles,” explained Fu.

The engineer also said TRUMPF had been exploring green laser technology in high-end jewelry, where it can create unique designs and shapes and print in certain materials that would be very hard for traditional jewelers, like titanium. As one of its use cases, the German company used its green laser technology to print a set of rose gold watch cases, which according to Fu, turned out great, especially because the green laser technology helped reduce precious metals waste, something that would be very practical to bring down the cost of these costly materials.

Eliana Fu discusses green lasers at TIPE 2022.

Eliana Fu discusses green laser applications at TIPE 2022. Image courtesy of TIPE 2022.

Following a successful first event in 2021, this year’s TIPE exceeded expectations. As one of AM’s top virtual global summits, it highlighted the importance of applications, processes, and innovation at the forefront of end-user production. We can’t wait to see what Women in 3D Printing will prepare for 2023.

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