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The development of additive manufacturing is proceeding at breakneck pace and the possibilities are enormous in both production and maintenance. But the technology is only really interesting when it is linked to other digital developments, says 3D expert Märtha Rehnberg.
Unlike old technologies, which often have a linear evolution, digital technology is changing exponentially. It develops slowly at first and then accelerates surprisingly quickly. This was the case for additive manufacturing, or 3D printing technology.
– Things barely moved in 3D for the first 20 years. However, 10-15 years ago, when the underlying computing power was sufficiently developed, both speed and quality improved. Prices started to fall, and many patents expired, allowing new players to enter. Industries started to develop the technology themselves, which created a lot of innovation and now things are moving very rapidly, says Märtha Rehnberg, economist, an expert on 3D technology who also runs the consulting firm DareDisrupt.
3D is not an island
She believes that 3D printing technology is not an “island entire unto itself”. It is only when it is crossed with other technologies, such as AI, robots or drones, that it becomes really exciting.
– Industry cannot afford not to think smart about production and maintenance. It is extremely important to understand how the various digital technologies are developed and how they can be used together. The aim is often to combine 3D with existing technology, but new technology requires different rules and completely new skills, says Märtha Rehnberg.
In order to take advantage of digital development you have to understand it. Märtha Rehnberg calls it technological intuition and she believes that knowledge of nature and how it builds its “products” is also important.
– It’s strange that we don’t talk about biology anymore! Today’s AI tools in design are actually based on the rules of nature; in production we take materials from nature and in 3D printing we make products in much the same way that nature grows.
Paves the way for new materials
Contrary to conventional methods, where you often peel away material from a larger piece to produce a final product, 3D printing technology is based on adding layer after layer. This allows you to build extremely complex structures, which will be much stronger than a traditionally manufactured product. The technology is also more resource-efficient and you can easily tailor components based on specific needs. It also paves the way for new materials
– Right now I see many new composites, including carbon fibre-reinforced plastic. But I strongly believe we will see a lot of brand-new materials in the future, such as biomaterials such as cellulose. Then it’s incredibly exciting to think about the opportunities it could present.
Ability to collaborate will be important in future
But in order to make the best use of 3D technology, knowledge of digitalisation and openness towards new materials are not enough. According to Märtha Rehnberg, one of the most important capabilities in the future will be the ability to collaborate.
– It can be difficult to admit that many of your previous rules no longer apply. But you have to make sure you know the limits to your skills – this is where you should start collaborating with others. It will require both courage and humility, but collaboration is one of the “must-have skills” of the future.
Five benefits of 3D printing:
Lead times and profitability. Being able to print a component when ordering or when a spare part is needed reduces both lead times and stock keeping.
Tailor-made components. The ability to make unique one-off products, such as spare parts that are no longer manufactured.
Sustainability. It is more resource efficient as there is less waste. The product itself becomes stronger and more durable and the equipment you already have has a longer service life.
New materials. When you work by adding layer after layer instead of peeling them away, you have the opportunity to work with new and more expensive materials.
Complex structures. 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture components with a complex design and internal structure that would be impossible using traditional manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing is one of the focus areas of Underhåll, the Swedish Maintenance Fair, which takes place on 10-13 March 2020 at the Swedish Exhibition & Congress Centre, Gothenburg. Märtha Rehnberg will participate as one of the speakers on Wednesday, 11 March. You can find more information about Underhåll and its programmes on www.underhall.se.