One such technology that is starting to gain traction in the elastomer sector is additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing. The concept has been around for a number of years now, and has evolved from being somewhat of a novelty to use in prototypes and, more recently, as a tool that can be used in certain production environments.
Growth for 3D printing came first in other sectors, including plastics, where materials were more easily adaptable to the production needs of additive manufacturers. With rubber, it took a bit more time to figure out which materials were best-suited and how they needed to be modified.
Of course, additive manufacturing will be more easily adapted by some industry sectors than others. Areas where unique shapes are needed or shorter runs of a product are required are likely to find applications first. The medical and aerospace industries already are finding success stories with 3D printing.
The rise in additive manufacturing has been slower in the high-volume automotive business. Thus far, the main usage has been to make spare parts, with some tooling and low-volume components. With the vehicle industry being so tied to economies of scale, cost and materials, some say they see 3D printing as more of “another tool in the tool box,” rather than a technology that becomes a dominant force.
A speaker at a recent Center for Automotive Research event said one key to development is the need for players in the sector to work together in a pre-competitive environment, where all work toward the same goal.
Source: Rubber & Plastics News, 21/02/2020