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Trends to Watch

Additive manufacturing is still a young development, and the different 3D printing processes it describes will continue to mature and advance alongside other significant manufacturing trends. AM is particularly well-suited to helping companies adopt more digital and flexible production, as well as more sustainable manufacturing operations. By utilizing only the material necessary, supporting the creation of lightweight and efficient parts, and enabling new end-of-life opportunities for used products, additive manufacturing can support efforts toward sustainability and the circular economy.

The digital nature of the process and its lack of tooling also makes it particularly well-suited for distributed or decentralized manufacturing, in which production is spread throughout many facilities rather than centralized in one location. This model supports localized production near where customers are, reducing shipping and establishing shorter, more secure supply chains. The concept is still new, but was seen in practice in the early part of 2020 when a consortium of U.S. 3D printing companies was formed to develop and manufacture nasopharyngeal swabs needed for COVID-19 testing, as detailed in the below video (a special episode of The Cool Parts Show).

In addition to supporting larger trends in manufacturing, AM also stands to benefit from technological advances. As a digital manufacturing method, 3D printing can become more predictable and accurate in combination with improved simulation tools and control software. Machine learning, in particular, is a natural complement to industrial 3D printing.

With Machine Learning, We Will Skip Ahead 100 Years

This article describes the potential for additive manufacturing to advance more quickly than any previous production technology, with the assistance of machine learning and artificial intelligence.


WATCH: How Test Swabs Became 3D Printing's Production Win

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen additive manufacturing step up to make face shields, masks, protective eyewear, even ventilator splitters. But there’s one 3D printed item that tells perhaps the best production story additive manufacturing has ever seen: nasopharyngeal swabs, the critical tools needed to diagnose COVID-19 cases. A consortium of additive manufacturers is ramping up to make millions of these swabs per week. It’s not just about numbers, however. These swabs are an instance where 3D printing can make real improvement to both the product and the process by which they are manufactured.


3D Printed Tool for CNC Machining: The Cool Parts Show S3E1

Guhring uses additive manufacturing to make an end mill with optimized internal channels. We visit a machine shop to test the tool on this episode of The Cool Parts Show.

Bioceramics for Bone Replacement: The Cool Parts Show S3E2

A mandibular cage made up of two different bioresorbable ceramics points to the future of bone graft and reconstructive surgeries in this episode of The Cool Parts Show.

Generative Design Improves Micromobility FUV: The Cool Parts Show S3E3

Arcimoto’s lightweight “Fun Utility Vehicle” gets even lighter thanks to parts that could only come from additive manufacturing. On this episode of The Cool Parts Show, some of the craziest automotive parts you have seen.