Multi-Material Printing is Generating Interest Among Manufacturers
The manufacturing industry has sung the praises of additive manufacturing (3D printing) for the better part of a decade. Now, there’s finally a relevant roadmap to implementation for additive manufacturing at scale. More importantly, new advances in this technology are finally coming to light. Among them, multi-material printing.
What is multi-material printing?
As the name implies, multi-material printing involves the simultaneous extrusion of various materials to create a final product that’s multifaceted. A simple example would be printing two types of polymers with different properties at the same time, to form a single printed product. On a more complex scale, it might involve steel and copper extrusion as part of an additive manufacturing project.
The demand for multi-material printing
To understand the demand for multi-material printing, it’s best to look at the benefits:
- This advanced form of additive manufacturing reduces the amount of time it takes to print an object, since it removes any necessity for material changeover.
- The precision of machine assembly ensures various materials are printed with precision, specifically according to the CAD file.
- Multi-material printing eliminates the need for additional CNC (computer numeric control) machining, cutting down on potential defects and QC issues.
These benefits translate instantly to any complex 3D printing project in virtually any industry. Instead of print-to-assembly, multi-material printing is a more direct, comprehensive solution to additive manufacturing.
The question remains: Where is the opportunity for multi-material printing? The answer is simple: Any industry currently utilizing additive manufacturing processes to create assemblies. Aerospace applications and the natural materials industry show specific promise.
The technology is still evolving
Just as 3D printing is still finding its legs in various industries; multi-material printing will similarly lag. The simpler the demand, the quicker it’ll be to scale. For example, polymer extrusion using different resins is already viable in the thermoplastics industry. However, multi-material extrusion of metallic powders for complex additive manufacturing is still as much as a decade off by some estimates.
Similar to the core concept of additive manufacturing, multi-material printing is taking baby steps. There are several recognized technologies contributing to its adoption, including:
- Fused deposition modeling
- Selective laser sintering
- PolyJet/MultiJet printing
Each technology comes with its own pros and cons, as well as viable industrial applications. Few are being performed at scale in any meaningful manufacturing process, but the promise of more efficient technology is always on the horizon.
Barriers to adoption, but increasing industry interest
Multi-material additive manufacturing also falls prey to the same concerns of 3D printing. The cost of adoption is still too high to justify utilization in many cases. Likewise, the process is often time consuming ― so much so it becomes a deficit greater than cost. And of course, there’s lack of demand in many industries where customization hasn’t reached the level of on-demand manufacturing yet.
These barriers haven’t stopped many industries from looking closer at additive manufacturing. In an age of manufacturing trending toward customization, additive manufacturing is sure to be an answer to many questions about production capabilities. Multi-material extrusion could be yet another step in the right direction ― one that cements additive manufacturing as an industry standard in the future.