Year-End Review: The 3D Printing Industry in December 2023

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As the year 2023 wrapped up, the world of 3D printing witnessed advancements across many sectors. The Defense sector continued its use of additive manufacturing, positioning it to accelerate production timelines for the upcoming Tempest fighter jet.

Take a look at all the 3D Printing Industry News from 2023.

In other news, the ability to upcycle materials through 3D printing provided relief to supply chain issues, and companies introduced new high-performance materials to the market.

The past year saw many strides in 3D printing within the medical field, and the final month was no exception. 3D printed spinal implants received market approval in China, and advancements were seen in 3D medical imaging.

Read on for more December 3D printing news highlights from the likes of Stratasys, Siemens Healthineers, Additive Manufacturing Solutions Ltd., 6K Additive, Constellium, Nikon SLM Solutions, Mechnano, Lithoz, and Bright Laser Technologies.

An artist’s impressions of the GCAP fighter jet. Image via BAE Systems.

Record fighter jet development time enabled by AM

December marked a key development in the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), which is developing a next generation supersonic fighter jet called the Tempest.

Launched in December 2022, GCAP united the F-X program of Japan with the Team Tempest project of the UK and Italy. This new stage involved the treaty signing between these three nations, which affirmed that the GCAP government HQ will be based in the UK. Team Tempest

The GCAP venture forecasts a strikingly short evolution timeline for the Tempest, with the finished fighter jet expected to be ready by 2035, precisely 12 years post the signing of the three-way agreement. To give some context, the Eurofighter Typhoon took 20 years in the making, in contrast to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor which had a development time of 26 years. Lockheed Martin’s

Owing to the considerable reductions in lead time that additive manufacturing provides, 3D printing is estimated to have a principal role in GCAP. BAE Systems, GCAP’s principal industrial partner, has expressed plans to 3D print 30% of the parts of the Tempest. BAE Systems

Other leading partners of the Program include the Italian defense contractor, Leonardo, and the Japanese manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), both of whom have strong foundations in additive manufacturing. Earlier, Leonardo collaborated with large-format 3D printer creator, BigRep, to 3D print parts for the Royal Navy’s AugustaWestland AW101 helicopters, while MHI boasts its own exclusive LAMDA directed energy deposition (DED) 3D printers. Leonardo, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, BigRep, Royal Navy

Concept image of the Tempest fighter jet. Image via BAE Systems.

Securing material supply chains

2023 has seen geopolitical and macroeconomic challenges place significant pressure on global supply chains. To combat this, additive manufacturing has been increasingly utilized to secure the supply of key materials.

In December, Industrial 3D printing materials manufacturer 6K Additive was awarded a $23.4 million grant from the US Department of Defense (DoD).

The company plans to use this funding to double capacity and expand its domestic metal upcycling capabilities to create, maintain, protect, and restore US industrial base capabilities for warfighting.

Awarded via Defense Production Act (DPA) authorities, this funding will help to reshore the supply of high-grade metals such as titanium, nickel and refractory metals within the US. These materials are frequently used to manufacture aircraft structural components, turbine engine blades, rocket engines, and radar systems.

Moreover, this grant will support 6K’s plans to renovate its facilities, acquire new talent, install new equipment, and upgrade its engineering capabilities.

In other news, 3D printing company from the UK Additive Manufacturing Solutions Ltd. (AMS) has declared its involvement with the UK Ministry of Defence and the Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA).

Their joint work aims at exploring the potential for recovery and reprocessing of key substances from excess defence assets. This represents the initial phase of an MoD project intending to boost comprehension and management of past and imminent material source approaches.

Ultimately, the aim of the MoD is to establish a robust supply chain based in the UK for important minerals, such as titanium, for the UK market.

The Director and CEO of AMS, Rob Higham, had thoughts to share – “AMS has continuously gained traction and proficiency in the additive powder market, maintaining a keen interest in providing recycled feedstocks. This pact signifies the subsequent step in our endeavour to commercialise recycled substances in the additive manufacturing feedstock sector.”

“Supporting the MoD in addressing critical mineral accessibility and capability is an honour and a testament to the efforts of the entire AMS team.”

High-performance 3D printing materials

December also saw notable developments within the high performance 3D printing material space. Arizona-based 3D printing company Mechnano and Bomar introduced a new E35B+ masterbatch utilizing Bomar’s BR-952 oligomer.

The masterbatch uses D’Func (Discrete, Dispersed, and Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes) technology to advance the quality of 3D printing resin. This new product is designed to guarantee increased mechanical strength and steady electrical performance.

After launching the E35B+, Mechnano and Bomar introduced another resin 3D printing material, the T50B masterbach. Developed likewise with Mechnano’s D’Func technology, this new material focuses on Discrete, Dispersed, and Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes. The T50B is engineered to improve mechanical attributes and keep the electrical performance stable at a nanoscale in the resin.

In December, aluminum expert Constellium broadened their Additive Manufacturing Development plan in collaboration with Nikon’s subsidiary, Morf3D.

The partnership aims to address the increasing demand for large-format metal 3D printing. It focuses on the qualification and further development of Constellium’s Aheadd CP1 powder using Nikon SLM Solutions’ SLM 500.

The Aheadd CP1 is optimized for laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) and is comprised of an aluminum-iron-zirconium powder. This is specifically designed to enhance production throughput and minimize upfront material costs. It is notable for its high strength and ductility, thermal and electrical conductivity, efficient processing, and easy post-processing procedures.

Updates in healthcare 

There has been continued progress in additive manufacturing in the medical field, as we saw in December when a 3D printed spinal cage from Wedo Bio-Medical Technology Co, Ltd. gained market approval in China.

Wedo’s product, dubbed the WedoCage, represents a Hydroxyapatite-Coated Porous Titanium Alloy Interbody Fusion Device. The creation of this device involved 3D printing via the BLT-S210 and BLT-S310 systems from Bright Laser Technologies (BLT).

Notably, the WedoCage sports a complicated porous structure. This necessitates precision during the 3D printing process as the spinal implant includes numerous overhangs and demanding product process parameters and support structures. As a result, BLT closely collaborated with Wedo’s Research & Development team to iteratively refine and optimize the 3D printing parameters for the WedoCage.

Trials have already been conducted with the 3D printed implant, spread across 10 research hospitals in China. These trials revealed a fusion effectiveness rate of 97.10% for the WedoCage, a figure that exceeds the 85.29% fusion succession rate observed with other PEEK Fusion Devices. Importantly, no adverse reactions linked to the device were reported in the trial.

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