In our first post, we discussed the history of manufacturing, from the Greek philosophy to paper production. The one thing that is evident in the manufacturing space is the need for change. Disruptive technology is the key to continued evolution and redefinition in the space – one area where this is evident is metal 3D printing.

This is the industry’s problem: the combination of reproducible 3D designs, and a new technology, supersonic 3D deposition, means that metal products can be made very quickly, identical to each other, and without the need for economies of scale.

We have problems predicting the effect of our own invention and according to their sphere of interest, each of our clients sees something different in it.

It may be that this intervention will bolt away with huge effect, in a way we and others cannot foresee right now. Socrates did perceive the ambiguous impact of writing on society, but he had no idea it would be underpinned by a second invention which would revolutionise the ancient world – the invention of paper.

We explain to our possible clients what our machine can do, show them the products, and the time taken and let them perceive the future in their own way. Then others in their company will perceive different things in the machine and imagine different uses. We can’t run ahead of this process and pretend that we know the whole picture ahead of time. All we can do is perfect the process and show it.

Looking to the future

It is almost impossible to imagine the future without the present dominating it. The first advertisements for recorded music show families sitting around the gramophone watching it, but there was no need to watch it, only to hear it. Now, people listening to music are highly mobile, and may even be jogging around the park. It took a while for the flexibility of recorded sound to catch on. This is present in other industries as well. In fact, the initial automobiles were designed like horse-drawn carriages, even though that was unnecessary, simply because we cannot, as human beings, see the future without basing our mental picture on the present.

An example drawn from today – supersonic 3D deposition will render unnecessary the mass production of car parts or aeronautical parts, but we have to explain this and justify it.

Metal 3D printing is currently very slow and expensive. This has pigeon holed the technology into one off niche or low volume parts used in specialised industries such as medical, dental and aerospace.

Alternatively, 3D printing engineers relied on the present to structure their thinking, namely by printing moulds in which molten metal could be poured into them 10,000 times, the same as conventional manufacturing. But this was the wrong measure, based on transporting the present into the future, because our imaginations are limited in this way.  We do not need to ask whether the machine can produce 10,000 identical products, as print on demand would mean that never again would such a large product run be necessary to amortise the unit costs, down to a sufficiently low level. A parts producer would only produce the parts needed that day and would not need to order, pay for, and house in warehouses, large numbers of parts acquired simply because only large-scale production produced a low enough average cost.

The industry is changing

The breakthrough came through the elimination of melting in the printing process. Conventional metal printing spreads a very fine layer of metal powder which is melted by a laser. The part is cooled, a new layer of power is spread, the laser melts the powder and the process is repeated. This melting and cooling process takes time which is dictated by physics and cannot be sped up. Combined with the requirement for inert gases, the process is slow and expensive.

By comparison, supersonic 3D deposition, uses a process whereby air is accelerated to very high speeds, 1000m/s, via a small rocket. The metal particles are injected into the air stream and accelerated to at least twice the speed of sound. When they hit the surface, they create a solid metal part – the process is continuous, low cost, and fast.

In our next post, we will discuss how our metal 3D printing technology can be put into action in the industry.