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Where is My 3D-Printed Gear?

December 13, 2020

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 06:47

Note: Noah J. Mostow, research associate at Wohlers Associates, authored the following.

With snow falling outside, I am often looking at my snowboarding equipment. It is all traditionally manufactured, along with all my outdoor gear. Where are the 3D-printed products?

It is easy to find 3D printers close to the engineers working at manufacturing companies that produce outdoor gear. For decades, many have used additive manufacturing to support modeling, prototyping, design validation, and testing. However, it is difficult to find more than a handful of products from these companies being manufactured by 3D printing.

Most outdoor gear is produced by conventional manufacturing due to the economies of scale. When I worked at Burton, 3D-printed bindings, goggles, and helmets were tested and validated in real-world settings. However, once a design was finished, tooling was made and the parts were manufactured with traditional methods such as injection molding.

The following image shows a concept snowboard binding that was designed with the help of AI and 3D printed on an HP Jet Fusion machine. It provides an opportunity to apply methods of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) to create intricate designs with less material. However, it may be some time before this binding is at your local ski shop due to the higher costs associated with 3D printing.

                                           

To make 3D-printed parts commercially viable, companies will need to make some fundamental changes. Methods of DfAM are key to improving designs that take advantage of 3D printing’s strengths. Topology optimization was likely used in the pictured binding, which is good. However, I believe few parts were consolidated digitally and printed as one. This can dramatically reduce cost.

The outdoor industry could gain from personalizing products to fit and perform better for a user. Customers will pay a premium for this. Most challenges related to using AM for final part production can and will be solved in time. However, not all parts and products are a good fit for AM. Even so, to survive and thrive, countless manufacturers worldwide will develop the expertise and capacity needed to produce new types of products that are commercially appealing and perform better due to the benefits of AM.