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Improved 3D Print Part Quality

Research Could Lead to Higher Durability For Common 3D Printers

A frequent barrier to adapting 3D printing is low quality print results. Angus from the Youtube channel "Makers Muse" covers this fairly in depth in his video "5 Reasons NOT to 3D Print Your Design" (His videos are very informative and worth watching by the way.) Scupteo's "State of 3D Printing Report:2020" has over half the industry stating that it's a problem. This could soon be a thing of the past.

If you are needing something to be durable or stress tested there are fewer environments than a battlefield to fully accomplish that task. However, having something fail in the heat of battle is potentially catastrophic. The US Army is testing a new type of filament that could let "low‐cost printers to produce parts with mechanical properties competitive with injection‐molded plastics..." The time from print to use is 24-48 hours which is still too slow for battlefield use but they are optimistic of a sub-4 hour timeframe . Here Dr. Eric Wetzel explains the process to create the combined filament structure and the curing time in an oven post-print. The military has many other programs furthering the maturation of 3D printing. 

Another Branch

The US Air Force has also made some progress with quality 3D printed part production. In recent years they have increased the number of parts that “...are renowned for having very long life cycles, and extremely high safety requirements. High levels of thermal or mechanical loading, especially during take-off and landing or if there is air turbulence, are one of the special features of the requirements profiles for most components,” by over 200 percent. That is of course what they are permitted to say. Who knows what they are working on in top secret areas.

More Durable Metal

Another advancement in part durability is related to metal part printing using Directed Energy Disposition1. The process uses ultrasound to modify the structure during the printing process to improve the strength and resilience of the finished part. This process will initially only impact high end manufacturing unlike the potential use on low-end machines from the Army’s process but increase in adoption in production increases the need for more skills.

1Todaro, C.J., Easton, M.A., Qiu, D. et al. Grain structure control during metal 3D printing by high-intensity ultrasound. Nat Commun 11, 142 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13874-z  

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