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The future of additive manufacturing: bio-based materials, innovative metal applications and 4D printing

9 Sept 2021

The future of additive manufacturing: bio-based materials, innovative metal applications and 4D printing

Dr Sascha Peters, one of the most renowned materials and technology experts in Europe, is a scientist, innovation consultant, design engineer and managing director of the future agency Haute Innovation. We spoke to him about new trends in additive manufacturing, innovative materials and highlights of the Innovation Forum he is putting together for the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR 2022.

Dr Peters, with annual growth rates of sometimes more than 20 percent, 3D printing has gained a lot of momentum in the industry. How will this development continue?

Currently, one can say: a lot is possible from a technical point of view, it just has to be profitable. After the stagnation caused by the Corona pandemic and a market shakeout, additive manufacturing is evolving from a niche technology to the "new normal". Wherever it makes sense, for example for small individual moulded parts, it will be on an equal footing with classic processes or even outperforms them. According to a study by ING Bank, this should be the case by 2040 to 2060. For long formats or extruded materials, however, conventional production techniques will remain the better solution in the medium term.

Additive manufacturing has long since moved beyond plastics and metals to also include concrete and bio-based materials. Which innovative materials will we see in the future?

The range of materials has been greatly expanded in the past 2 to 3 years. I see two main developments for the future. The first is printing processes in which high-performance materials enable new functions. 3D components will be printed with two-dimensional electronic components such as batteries, solar cells, sensors, circuit boards as well as OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes). This process is also known as 2.5D printing and combines various future technologies with the advantages of additive manufacturing.

Interesting application possibilities are arising, for example, in digital applications such as intralogistics, Industry 4.0 and robotics.

The second major material trend reflects the megatrend of sustainability. Innovative bio-based materials are being developed all the time. In this case, however, it depends on how costly and energy-intensive it is to produce printing materials from them in powder form. In many cases, this involves a high energy input and is not always cost-effective. With biobased waste materials, especially biodegradable materials, the ecological and economic balance looks more favourable. At the next INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR, for example, we will present biodegradable turbine blades with high stability, printed from cellulose, chitin and a fungus. They cost a whole 8 US dollars to produce. The future belongs to such natural materials.

How far is the path from 2.5D and 3D printing to 4D printing?

An intriguing topic with great potential: three-dimensionally printed materials that react to external influences, such as temperature, light, magnetism or moisture, and change their shape - that is the fourth component. We currently see application potential in the field of medical technology: for example, stents or individual cochlear implants made of shape-memory alloys, which are inserted into the ear as thin rods and only take on the typical snail shape under the influence of the body temperature. The automotive industry is researching 4D tyres that change their profile when exposed to moisture. There are ideas galore - but it will take another 10 to 15 years before they are realised.

Which 3D printing innovations will we see at the next INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR?

We will be staging an "innovation show" together with partners, showing new perspectives and applications for additive manufacturing.

In addition to the aforementioned biodegradable turbine blades and plastic components printed with electronic components, we will also be presenting new metal materials as a particular highlight: copper, zinc and brass have not yet been able to be processed additively without problems. Copper in particular is difficult to melt as a powder due to its heat-conducting properties. But now a manufacturer has found a solution. In any case, these materials open up new perspectives for metal printing, for example for spare parts for engines or for construction.