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

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As the year 2023 ended, news in 3D printing saw advancements across various sectors. The Defense sector consistently made use of additive manufacturing, promising an unprecedented turnaround for the upcoming Tempest fighter jet generation.

All the 3D Printing Industry News from the year 2023.

On the other hand, the capability of 3D printing materials to be upcycled mitigated supply chain issues, while businesses invented new, high-efficiency materials.

2023 was a year filled with numerous 3D printing innovations within the medical sector, with December being no exception. 3D printed spinal inserts were granted commercial approval in China, while breakthroughs were made in 3D medical imaging.

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

Record fighter jet development time enabled by AM

December became an important part of the history of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), as it marked the development of a next-generation supersonic fighter jet named the Tempest.

First set in motion in December 2022, GCAP is a collaboration between Japan’s F-X program and the UK and Italy’s Team Tempest project. This recent development marks an international treaty among these three countries, asserting that the UK will be the home of the GCAP government headquarters.

The ambitious promises of GCAP involve a significantly reduced development timeframe for Tempest, with the final fighter jet expected to be ready in 2035, a mere 12 years after the agreement. This contrasts with the Eurofighter Typhoon, which required a span of 20 years for development, and Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor faced a 26-year development stretch.

The prominent role of 3D printing in GCAP is due to the significant reductions in lead time it provides. BAE Systems, a major industrial partner of GCAP, has indicated plans to 3D print roughly 30% of parts for Tempest.

The program’s other leading partners include Leonardo, Italian defense contractor, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), both having substantial experience in additive manufacturing. In the past, Leonardo has partnered with the large-format 3D printer manufacturer BigRep to create 3D printed parts for the Royal Navy’s AugustaWestland AW101 helicopters. Additionally, MHI provides its unique LAMDA directed energy deposition (DED) 3D printers.

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. 

Elsewhere, UK-based 3D printing SME Additive Manufacturing Solutions Ltd. (AMS) announced a collaboration with the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA).

This partnership will see AMS investigate the potential of recovering and recycling critical materials from excess defence assets. This commencement marks the first phase of an MoD initiative that aims to enhance insights and control over present and future material sourcing strategies.

In the end, the MoD aspires to establish a robust UK-based supply chain for vital minerals, such as titanium for the UK market.

“AMS has diligently developed momentum and proficiency within the additive powder market, focusing intensely on supplying recycled feedstocks. This agreement signifies the subsequent phase in our mission to commercialize recycled materials within the additive manufacturing feedstock market,” remarked AMS Director and CEO Rob Higham.

“Supporting the MoD in addressing critical mineral accessibility and capability is an honor 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 employs exclusive D’Func (Discrete, Dispersed, and Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes) technology to facilitate the advancement of 3D printing resin. This new offering is said to ensure heightened mechanical strength and uniform electrical performance.

Following the launch of E35B+, Mechnano and Bomar launched an additional resin 3D printing material dubbed T50B masterbach. Also developed with Mechnano’s D’Func technology, this material concentrates on Discrete, Dispersed, and Functionalized Carbon Nanotubes. T50B has been designed to enhance mechanical properties and maintain consistent electrical performance at the nanoscale within the resin.

December also saw aluminum specialist Constellium expand its Additive Manufacturing Development plan through a partnership with Nikon’s subsidiary Morf3D.

In an effort to meet the demand for large-format metal 3D printing, a partnership has been formed revolving around the qualification and development of Constellium’s Aheadd CP1 powder via Nikon SLM Solutions’ SLM 500.

The Aheadd CP1, maximized for laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF), is a unique blend of aluminum-iron-zirconium powder. Specifically developed to enhance production speed and reduce material costs, the CP1’s distinguishing features include excellent strength and ductility, remarkable thermal and electrical conductivity, efficient processing, and easy post-processing procedures.

Healthcare Developments

Continued advancements in the medical sector of additive manufacturing were witnessed in December, with the 3D printed spinal cage produced by Wedo Bio-Medical Technology Co, Ltd. being granted market approval in China.

WedoCage, the company’s Hydroxyapatite-Coated Porous Titanium Alloy Interbody Fusion Device, was 3D printed using the BLT-S210 and BLT-S310 systems of Bright Laser Technologies (BLT).

The intricate porous structure of the WedoCage necessitates high precision during the 3D printing process. This spinal implant comprises extensive overhangs and challenging product process parameters and support structures. As a result, BLT collaborated intimately with Wedo’s R&D team to refine and enhance the 3D printing parameters of the WedoCage.

The 3D printed implant has successfully completed controlled clinical trials across ten research hospitals in China. The trial study highlighted that the WedoCage’s fusion effective rate was at 97.10% – outdoing the 85.29% fusion success rate of other PEEK Fusion Devices. Additionally, no device-related adverse reactions were reported during the trial period.

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