Manufacturing Renaissance: Ubiquitous Instant Production (Part-III)
Integrative RM Trends: Hybrid ‘Top-Down’ Direct Digital Manufacturing.
Hence world firsts are abound in this industry. Hybrid electronic circuitry and mechanical structures are beginning to be successfully three dimensionally printed (3DP). Smart Wing is part of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with multifunctional integrated electronics printed within the wing assembly. The prototype is a Hyperinnovation between Aerostructures Research Group.
The Optomec Aerosol Jet System is used to print a conformal sensor, antenna and circuitry directly onto the wing of a UAV model. The wing was 3DP with the Stratasys Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) process. The electrical and sensor designs were provided by Aurora Flight Sciences, a supplier of UAVs. Using direct hybrid digital manufacturing techniques gives the capability to print multifunctional electronic systems into complex-shaped structures using additive RM. This enables rapid customisation UAVs, potentially closer to the field, when and where needed.
Multifunctional 3DP benefits are manifold; enabling lighter-weight mechanical structures with corresponding 3DP electronic circuits, freeing-up additional space for payload with much less material. This ground-breaking project is a vanguard paving the way to the radical transform in product design and development. In turn, giving a true sea change in integrated manufacture-production-assembly across high-end technology industries. Hence, streamlining future efficiencies and innovative capabilities within aerospace, automotive systems, medical equipment, commercial and consumer electronics, by requiring fewer materials and steps to bring a product to market.
One hybrid ‘top-down’ pioneering piece of kit is The Replicator, a robotic RM system made by Cybaman Technologies, a British firm. The Replicator is an automated computer controlled system which employs both subtractive and additive processes to produce components. Developed specifically for high-speed machining of 3D metal components, it presents each facet of a workpiece, to the cutting tool in an automatic sequence. Tool-paths are generated using hyperMill CAD/CAM software and then converted into machine movement with the Cybaman postprocessor.
The Replicator can be supplied with a Laser Powder Deposition heads for building-up additative metal parts directly from a CAD model. Then, using the optional non-contact scanning systems, parts can be imported into the CAD for subsequent replication within the system. The Replicator workstation houses a 6-Axes PC Based CNC Software. A positioning system comprising 3-Axes Articulated Robotic Manipulator and a Hi-Speed Machining Spindle mounted on 3-Linear-Axes; enabling complete 3D machining of functional components in a single set up.
And this is where it really gets going: a Dutch R&D enterprise known as TNO is exploring new hybrid RM techniques by integrating innovative arrays of multiple 3D deposition heads dispensing ceramics, metals or plastics onto multiple platforms travelling around a carousel in a continuous loop.
Imagine a large toy train with plinths mounted on top of each carriage, going around a long ovoid track. As each plinth goes by each deposition head station, a complete multimaterial products is made-up layer-by-layer (pens, shoes, eye-glasses, artist sculptures, play toys, etc).
This prototype represents a model for RM futures. With further development, in terms of deposition resolution, closer coupling of jets-head, finer and broader range of materials, it is paves the way for another kind of integrated manufacturing-production-assembly line. The goal is to integrate jetting and printing of viscous materials, patterning of photo-sensitive materials, stereolithography, RM metal and polymer structures, laser printing and structuring, thin-film deposition and patterning. And that just scratches the surface.
Now scale all this up to a size where it is possible to 3DP domestic refrigerators, food mixers, car parts, garden tools. And all this is on the way: Take LEPUS a fast digital light processing technology for the 3D printing of hearing aids; or Fast-ALD a spatial atomic layer deposition (ALD) technology for high-speed deposition of functional materials on rigid substrates such as passivation layers in crystalline solar cells, printed electronics, OLED, flexible displays and LED. Consequently Hybrid ‘Top-Down’ Direct Digital Manufacturing is about to tip, offering massive GigaMarket opportunities for the would-be innovator.