Manufacturers turn to 3-D printing

July 19, 2011 | Source: Technology Review
Additive Manufacturing

Machines stand ready to produce products through additive manufacturing techniques (credit: Materialise)

This May, General Electric announced it would “intensify focus” on additive manufacturing to develop a variety of products, from aircraft engine components to parts for ultrasound machines, that can be printed using 3-D printers.

Additive manufacturing can build objects out of metals, plastics, and ceramics in geometric shapes that are impossible to achieve with other techniques. Because the design is digital, businesses can order the resulting products from any available 3-D printer. Large manufacturers are starting to use the technique to make industrial scanners, furniture, and medical equipment.

Additive manufacturing requires no assembly and can turn a computer file into products made to exact specifications. In stereolithography, for example, a laser moves slice by slice through a vessel of liquid polymer that hardens when struck by the beam following the coded instructions of a computer. This enables printers to create smooth and detailed surfaces.