Additive manufacturing (AM) sector leader 3D Systems has announced two new partnerships, each involving another American manufacturing company. One of the partnerships, with TE Connectivity — a major producer of electrical connectors and sensors, headquartered in Pennsylvania — will involve the development of 3D printed electrical connectors, using a unique photopolymer that 3D Systems engineered specifically for TE.
The other partnership is with 6K Additive, also headquartered in Pennsylvania. 6K has been selected as the preferred supplier of tungsten powder for 3D Systems’ line of Direct Metal Printing (DMP) platforms. Tungsten is one of the refractory metals, which, thanks to the uniquely high temperatures that 6K’s proprietary UniMelt system can achieve, are the company’s specialty.
Although the announcements are not directly related, the common thread of the two partnerships is the potential that both have to help bolster domestic supply chains for the US electric grid. The relationship between 3D printing electrical connectors and securing power grid equipment supply chains is obvious enough. As for tungsten, its resistance to corrosion and wear make it a critical metal to just about every market segment within the energy sector.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the future of the global economy lies in manufacturing for a new power grid. This is because of the potential it has to create growth, in-and-of-itself: and, even more so, because the stability of the rest of the economy is so wholly dependent on the stability and reliability of the electric supply.
Even aside from the future possibilities for producing at scale, 3D printing companies will be indispensable to the task of building a new power grid, if only thanks to its ability to facilitate the unprecedented amount of rapid prototyping that will be required. Utilities companies will need new solutions, and a greater diversity of solutions, than at any point since the beginning of mass industrialization. At the same time, this will be a big enough market to where serving as its main rapid prototyping and small-batch production tool could be exactly the gateway to mass production that the 3D printing sector needs.
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