This week’s installment in our #AMapplications series is dedicated to surprising applications – 3D printing applied where you least expect it. It goes to show how out-of-the-box thinking can lead to improving existing products, or solving solutions that, frankly, most of us weren’t aware of. In this regard, awareness is a big part of the additive manufacturing (AM) ecosystem’s growth. The familiarity of professionals from different disciplines and industries with AM as part of their toolbox is key in achieving products that answer to industry-specific needs. Here are 6 AM applications that demonstrate that.
The Make-up Application
Last year Chanel launched a new mascara wand with a 3D printed tip, named Le Révolution Volume Mascara (below). Chanel Parfums Beauté collaborated with Erpro 3D Factory, in order to additively manufacture the tiny hairs that apply mascara. The development took over 10 years with the first patent filed all the way back in 2007. Using AM allowed the company to move easily from prototype to end-product. With traditional manufacturing, prototypes are mock-ups of shape and size while a separate process is dedicated to the development of the final product including material properties, functionality, and manufacturing. Using AM enables one to take all factors into account from the very beginning, testing with the final manufacturing method and material. Specifically, in this case, over 100 printed trial rounds were done in order to finalize the product. That’s something that would have been almost impossible and for sure costly with traditional manufacturing. The mascara wands are now produced on an industrial scale, on a production line that includes 6 machines, capable of producing 50,000 brushes per day, which translates to 250,000 brushes per week, and 1 million brushes per month.
The Tire Application
Michelin‘s additively manufactured sipes have been featured here before. The company has passed the “1 million” threshold, producing a part that many of us didn’t know existed. These sipes (below) are inserted into the company’s tire molds enabling improved tire performance in their CrossClimate line. Beyond improving the product, using AM sipes helped reduce time to market for the new line and for future iterations by simplifying both the development process as well as the manufactured process. Michelin started the process around the same time as Chanel, in 2006, by 2009 they already validated the use of AM sipes in their molds, and a year later started production.
The Radiation Application
Tungsten is a metal which, compared to other metals, has a very high melting point. Actually, it is said to have the highest boiling and melting point of any element found on earth, it is uniquely strong and resistant to corrosion. These characteristics make Tungsten ideal in absorbing radiation, a property needed in components for medical imaging systems. The material characteristics that make it ideal for applications such as collimators and radiation shields also make it difficult to work with in terms of manufacturing – enter AM. Additive manufacturing can overcome the material limitations in terms of production, enabling the creation of the complex and precise structures needed for imaging applications (below additively manufactured Tungsten medical imaging device by Wolfmet).
The Subsea Application
Another unexpected application is this chassis (below) for a subsea positioning and mapping instrument from Kongsberg Maritime. The company which provides systems and solutions for industries such as maritime, defense, aerospace, oil and gas worked with 3DPRINTUK on developing the component that is currently mass-produced. In simple terms, the chassis is a casing holding a battery and a PCB with details allowing securing the part during transfer. “It’s a transponder designed to sink subsea and attach to a diver or an ROV [Remotely Operated Vehicle]. It is used when you want to know precisely where it is located in relation to other subsea instrumentation on a work site,” explains Robert Kovacs, Senior Subsea Design Engineer at Kongsberg Maritime. Here, the use of AM for this specific application allows for low volume production of an intricate part that needs to withstand extreme conditions.
The Genetic Application
From the sea to the human body, the next application pertains to genetic research. BD Rhapsody Single Cell Analysis System is a system used for genome research, in that system, the hemocytometer adapter is additively manufactured by Carbon. I’m no expert in the medical field, but to the best of my understanding, the component, a device usually used for counting blood cells, has a number of features that made it problematic for traditional manufacturing. The combination of needs such as creating a sliding surface, central fluid holders, undercut structures, a window for optics and more, brought Becton, Dickinson, and Company (BD) to look for other manufacturing solutions. With Carbon, they not only managed to produce the functional and intricate part, but the iterative development process with Carbon helped in reducing print time by 55% and material usage by 7%. Together they developed an economically viable end part and accelerated the overall development cycle.
The Circuit Application
The last unexpected application on our list today is a server mount on a PCB (Printed Circuit Board). The tiny bracket (above and below) was developed and additively manufactured for Oracle. The component, approximately an inch big (or small), is used in the company’s research server. In this case, the functionality of the part needed to be tested during the development process, this couldn’t have been achieved with injection molding. On top of that, eventually with additive manufacturing, the production process was able to meet the required production schedule while injection molding couldn’t. Since the company required a production run of 10,000 of the brackets Sculpteo helped in designing a cube of brackets (2nd below), instead of additively manufacturing them as single units, enabling the production of 10,000 parts in days. On the collaboration with Carbon, Craig Stephen Senior Vice President of Research & Development at Oracle Labs said: “Our R&D team had designs we needed to produce at scale. Working with Carbon extended our prototyping into production quantities and qualities. We received structural parts when we needed them and in volumes to get the job done.”
These unexpected AM applications are unexpected in the sense that these are parts and products that usually only people within that specific field know of. When you look closely at the features, characteristics, and functions of each of these, the use of AM actually isn’t unexpected, its called for.
It’s always exciting to see new applications for AM, but it’s even more exciting to see them mature into industrialized processes and business models. Tell us about the AM applications you encountered, we’ll try to feature them here and follow us for more #AMapplications. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.