TJ McCue, Contributor
Additive manufacturing (AM) touches or will touch many aspects of our lives. From 3D printers that can quickly print prototypes to advanced metal laser sintering processes, everything from hip implants to that dental bridge or crown, are being “printed” from 3D modeling tools and software. The medical “parts” industry is a subset of AM industry which will hit $2.1 Billion this year and forecasted to be $3.7 Billion by 2015.
Creating a new hip takes an amazingly precise machine. Tens of thousands of acetabular hip cups (titanium implants) have been produced to date by AM advances. According to Dr. Michele Pressacco of Lima Corporate, Lima alone has produced 40,000 hip cups over the past five years.
To be accurate, Lima is using a technique known as Electron Beam Melting (EBM) which is more advanced than your basic laser sintering method. You can read about Selective Laser Melting here on Wikipedia, which includes EBM. This technique allows them to produce precise hip, shoulder, and knee protheses.
If you thought some guy in a lab was hand crafting your dental crown, think again. An estimated 50 million dental copings gave been produced to date by additive manufacturing. That’s right, 50 million. A coping is the main metal structure of a dental crown or bridge. Increasingly, dental labs are transitioning to digitally-driven processes for dental restorations.
Many of these labs, if not most, are small businesses. Often started by maker types who like to tinker and fix and create. Often, one or two people operate 1, 2, or 4 rapid prototyping machines and produce thousands of parts, test models, or finished products.
Jumping up a bit bigger than one or two machines, Morris Technologies (Cincinnati, Ohio), for example, owns and operates 20 direct metal laser sintering machines, in addition to other rapid prototyping technologies, to manufacture and prototype products for a range of industries including aerospace and medical. CEO Greg Morris is one of the speakers at this year’s EuroMold event.
At the end of November, EuroMold will take place in Germany. This additive manufacturing conference is one of the biggest around and last year hosted 1,324 exhibitors from 38 countries and 57,955 designers, engineers, managers, and executives from 97 countries. These individuals and organizations represent many industries, including automotive, consumer electronics, medical, aerospace, packaging, household appliances, furniture, sporting goods, and toys. I’m willing to bet that many of the attendees are entrepreneurs and makers getting a new company off the ground.
Wohlers Associates, a consulting firm that tracks additive manufacturing, provided me with a media copy of their 2012 State of the Industry report this past spring, will run its own conference alongside EuroMold, focused on metal additive manufacturing, with experts from around the world. I profiled Mr. Wohlers and his data in a couple of earlier posts: 3D Printing Industry Will Reach $3.1 Billion Worldwide by 2016 and Additive Manufacturing Will Change in the Next 5-10 Years.