How 3D printing is building resilience in high-tech supply chains

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Technologies deemed essential to US national security are often just as important to America’s economic situation. View jobs for the additive manufacturing or 3D printing industry.

Additive manufacturing is on the Biden administration’s list of critical and emerging technologies. A more recent initiative Additive Manufacturing (AM)promotes innovation and adoption 3D printing to solve a multitude of problems ranging from supply chain disruption and offshore production to America’s technological competitiveness.

“3D printing technology is amazing,” President Joe Biden said during a recent tour of the 3D manufacturing plant. “It can reduce part lead times by up to 90%, reduce material costs by 90% and cut energy consumption in half. All of this reduces the cost of manufacturing goods here in America.

AM Forward encourages large US manufacturers to source 3D printers and materials from small and midsize US suppliers to reduce their reliance on overseas factories. GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Siemens Energy have announced their support for the pact.

3D in the supply chain

The technology also has broad implications for the high-tech supply chain. Based in Watertown, MA Taggedforge has developed a platform of software, materials and printers for high-precision industrial 3D manufacturing. Its “digital forge” helps develop and store product designs digitally, incorporates metals, plastics and continuous fibers into its materials, and enables rapid product prototyping and production.

Charles Lu of 3D printer manufacturer Markedforge

Charles Lu of Markedforge

“Our niche is in low-volume tooling and fixtures that require stiff, strong materials and precise, reliable production,” said Charles Lu, Product Marketing Manager. Most Markedforge printers fit on a desktop.

Designing and producing components in-house protects a manufacturer’s intellectual property, Lu pointed out, as opposed to sharing that data with an overseas factory. All data stored in the Digital Forge system is strongly encrypted. If a fault is spotted, its origin is easily traced back to the source, he added.

The economic benefits of 3D printing are considerable. Product designs are stored and easily reconfigured if multiple product SKUs are needed. Products can be printed on demand, eliminating inventory costs or volume ordering requirements. Labor cost and machine time are reduced, Lu said, as is product processing time.

Even basic components, such as manufacturing tools, are currently subject to delivery delays due to widespread logistical disruptions. Electronics manufacturers often expect a single component to complete prototyping or production of a design. Modification – whether it’s the packaging, the component itself, or a tool on a manufacturing line – can reduce the wait.

“Delivery times for products you buy can be up to 60 weeks,” Lu said. “I think from the perspective of someone sourcing these parts, having the ability to bring slight changes or modifications to a device that delay assembly is very valuable. Many companies have to adapt to the most available parts.

The global 3D printing market was valued at $13.84 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 20.8% from 2022 to 2030, according to Grand View Search. Globally, 2.2 million units of 3D printers were shipped in 2021, and shipments are expected to reach 21.5 million units by 2030.

Rising demand for prototyping applications across various industry verticals, especially healthcare, automotive, aerospace and defense is expected to fuel the market growth.

A common use of Markedforge’s system is tooling used in mass manufacturing. Customer Fischer connectors, a supplier of heavy-duty connectors and cable assemblies, can print a set of prototype mold tools in just 24-48 hours for around $150. For low volume production runs, the mold tool is used as a production mold tool. For high-volume programs, where the cost of a conventional steel mold can be substantial, the 3D printed mold plays a crucial role in developing dozens of proof-of-concept (POC)-ready prototypes. Fischer can complete and demonstrate a POC within 48 hours to a week.

Currently, printed electronics are quite simple. Electrically functional electronic or optical inks are deposited on a substrate, creating active or passive devices, such as thin film transistors, capacitors, coils and resistors. Some researchers expect printed electronics to facilitate widespread, very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, decorative and animated posters, and clothing.

3D materials have evolved considerably since the beginnings of industrial printing and are most often provided by printer manufacturers. Such models control the quality of the materials and the device that is printed, Lu said. the global supply chain is reeling from Covid and numerous logistical disruptions. Markedforge is implementing redundant material sourcing, Lu said.

For the first quarter of 2022, the company’s revenue increased 8.6% year over year to $21.9 million.

Recent Industry Developments

Since additive manufacturing became a national priority, according to the media site 3D printing industrythere have been several advances:

  • Binder-jet 3D printer maker ExOne has won a $1.6 million contract to develop a portable 3D printing facility for the Department of Defense (DoD) that could provide parts production capabilities of replacement for troops in the field.
  • Additive manufacturing data specialist Senvol has received a round of funding from the DoD to develop its machine learning software Senvol ML and has already received a contract to design and qualify 3D printed components for use on missiles.
  • Industrial 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys has developed its new data security platform, ProtectAM, specifically designed to improve 3D printing cybersecurity for US government and critical defense applications. The company also won a $20 million contract to supply the U.S. Navy with up to 25 F900 3D printers over the next five years in a bid to shorten the military’s supply chains and provide it with improved aircraft repair capabilities.
  • Producer of particle-free metallic inks Electroninks has received an investment from In-Q-Tel, the strategic investment arm of the US intelligence community founded by the CIA, which will help the company supply its particle-free conductive inks widely to its government and trading partners.

Additive manufacturing developers highlight the transformation of factory floors where design and intellectual property, materials and 3D printers coexist on site. The bulkiness of many 3D printers and lightweight materials solves space problems, and on-demand production frees up warehouse space.

Devices can be networked for large-scale projects, added Lu from Michigan. DIAMOND Project allows factories to quickly increase their activity. For example, hundreds of manufacturers with 3D printers can print personal protective equipment (PPE) when called upon.