3D printing is the future of manufacturing, or at least that's what some proponents will tell you. One of the major roadblocks standing in the way of that vision is print speed of current 3D printers. It takes a long time to even print small objects so large scale production would take months when traditional manufacturing only takes days. The government wants to fix that.
The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Laboratory announced last week that it has partnered with Cincinnati Incorporated to build the next generation of 3D printers. The government said this new machine would utilize polymer and be capable of printing large parts "faster and more cheaply than current technologies."
“The Energy Department and its national labs are forging partnerships with the private sector to strengthen advanced manufacturing, foster innovation, and create clean energy jobs for the growing middle class,” said David Danielson, the Energy Department’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “Developing innovative manufacturing technologies in America will help ensure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow are created here in the United States, putting people to work and building a clean energy economy.”
So, how much faster is this new printer going to be? The government claims it can create a 3D printer that can print parts 200 to 500 times faster than current 3D printers at sizes 10 times larger than what's currently possible.
Using the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer as the standard, let's take a look at what the government is hoping to achieve. At 200 to 500 times faster than the current standard, this mythical printer would be able to print at 20,000 to 50,000mm per second. That seems almost unlikely. As for the size, a build volume 10 times larger than the current standard is certainly possible, and printers that large are already being used to print houses in Amsterdam.
“Cincinnati Incorporated has enjoyed a long working relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said Cincinnati CEO Andrew Jamison. “Over the years we have supplied over 40 metal working machine tools to Oak Ridge and its various subcontractors. As one of the oldest U.S. machine tool manufacturers, with continuous operation since 1898, we view this exciting opportunity as starting a new chapter in our history of serving U.S. manufacturing. Out of this developmental partnership with ORNL, Cincinnati intends to lead the world in big area additive manufacturing machinery for both prototyping and production.”
The two will start on their journey by retrofitting Cincinnati Incorporated's laser cutting machine with additive manufacturing technology. From there, the team will add "a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism and control software into the gantry system to offer additional capabilities."
While much of the work in 3D printers these past few years has been spearheaded by small businesses with big idea, it's nice to see the government and its much larger vat of resources step in to hasten development. Here's hoping they share the love once they have a working prototype up and running.
Image via Oak Ridge National Laboratory