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The Future Of 3D Printing: Additive Manufacturing Trends

The Future Of 3D Printing: Additive Manufacturing Trends

3D printing experts have given us their forecasts for the additive manufacturing trends to watch and also the future of 3D printing

Of course, 3D printing does not exist in a vacuum (except when it does). Figuratively speaking, additive manufacturing must be considered in relation to the bigger picture. Whether that is the immediate 3D printing ecosystem of materials, machines, and software or the wider world of technology, economic and social forces. 

Therefore, the final question we asked the industry leaders was what non-AM/3DP frontier technology do you see as the most significant for the coming decade and why?

All extruder, no filament?

As noted in earlier articles, there is a tendency to bristle against marketing terminology. However consider how earlier terms such as the Internet or the Cloud proved useful in crystallizing a vision and differentiating such technologies from the earlier physical, and digital, elements they were formed from. 

Extending this to today’s buzzwords, will Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, Web3, the Metaverse, or Non-Fungible Tokens advance beyond their initial manifestations? 

Alternatively, and to coin a phrase, are some of these technologies all extruder and no filament?

The AI’s have it

The responses reveal an industry optimistic about the future and the role of technology within it. The second most mentioned theme was a concern for the climate and how technology can be harnessed to address net-zero goals for carbon. Within this theme, the experts discuss renewable energy such as hydrogen, energy storage including solid-state batteries and recycling, and electric vehicles. 

Also featuring prominently was the use of advanced visualization and collaborative tools, specifically Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). How (and if) the Metaverse comes to be manifested for the mainstream user remains to be seen. Will Zuckerberg’s Facebook mutate into Neal Stephenson’s Global Multimedia Protocol Group, or will the currently cumbersome nature continue to deter wider adoption?

Data and the software needed to generate useful information or applications are considered by the experts, whether in manufacturing execution systems, the digital thread, the digital marketplace, or big data. Receiving fewer mentions were distributed ledger technologies and FinTech – here NFT’s, decentralized networks and blockchain-based systems were on the expert’s radar – but of note to fewer respondees. Likewise, while fascinating topics, synthetic biology, and materials received only a couple of mentions. 

But the most frequently cited technology, mentioned by a quarter of our experts, was Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). 

McKinsey’s most recent State of AI report shows service operations, product and service development, and marketing and sales as the top three areas where AI is currently applied. Our respondents look towards enhanced generative design tools and cloud-based intelligent systems underpinning the future of advanced manufacturing. 

Dr. Jeffrey Graves, President & CEO, 3D Systems

We’re seeing machine learning/artificial intelligence playing a more important role in additive manufacturing – powering software that is underlying the entire manufacturing workflow. Not only is machine learning optimizing organizations’ use of 3D printing, but it is also optimizing other advanced manufacturing technologies, including robotic welding, machining, finishing, and inspection operations, in full production environments. While this technology is playing an important role within our industry, I believe it will play a significant role more broadly within society over the coming decade.

We’re already seeing how cloud-based intelligent systems are making our lives easier, and more efficient. If we’re ordering take-out through an app, or a ride via one of the well-known rideshare services, machine learning/AI is already playing a role. We’re also seeing this technology’s influence in healthcare, whereby virtual visits with a physician are removing the need to take time out of our busy schedules to physically drive to a medical office. Instead, we can request a virtual appointment, and through the power of our laptop or smart device, from the comfort of our own homes, both patient and physician can discuss and assess symptoms for the physician to render a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment. Over the coming decade, I think we’ll see the role of machine learning continue on its upward trajectory, influencing in a greater way how we interact with one another and closing the physical gap to bring society virtually closer. 

Didier Deltort, President, HP Personalization & 3D Printing Business

Beyond additive manufacturing and 3D printing, mixed reality (MR) will fast become a significant technology within the industry, and over the next decade will become the norm for customer service support. With the exponential rise in digital manufacturing fueling the industry, customers have less time for service calls and higher production runs to meet, therefore the way in which companies deliver services in this ever-evolving business and work environment needs to change fast. MR can do just that, providing real-time support that can guide PSPs through troubleshooting as they work, ensuring self-sufficiency and smoother operations around the clock.

In this context, HP has partnered with Microsoft to launch the first-ever industry mixed reality service – HP xRServices. The collaboration will see HP xRServices and Microsoft HoloLens 2 create a virtual-real world combination in which customers can connect with HP engineers in a split second through mixed reality, advising them on any issue, at any point of their print production. Wearing the Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset and supported by HP xRServices solution, users will get the feeling of being physically present with a virtual coach on hand to guide them through the process, meaning no time wasted on long service calls, resolutions are swift and press downtime is kept minimal.

More Expert Forecasts:


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How To Choose The Right 3D Printing Material

How To Choose The Right 3D Printing Material

What do Notched IZOD of 14 J/m, post-cured, and ASTM D 256-10 actually mean? What’s the difference between strength and modulus? How do they relate to common materials that we come across every day, and why does it matter to you?

Understanding Material Properties of Plastics

Material properties such as chemical, optical, mechanical, thermal, or electrical characteristics reflect how a specific material will behave under certain conditions. As quantitative metrics, these attributes can help you assess the benefits of one material versus another for a specific use case.

In the following, Formlabs will describe the most widely used mechanical and thermal properties, their importance for specific applications, and how 3D printed materials relate to plastics manufactured with traditional methods to help you make the right material decisions.


How to Select the Right 3D Printing Material

In this webinar, Formlabs will walk through five high priority material properties, and give you their recommendations on popular 3D printing materials to use based on your desired material or application.

Watch the Webinar Now


Find the Right Material for Your Application

Need some help figuring out which 3D printing material you should choose? Formlabs’ new interactive material wizard helps you make the right material decisions based on your application and the properties you care the most about from their growing library of resins.

Recommend Me a Material


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How 3D Printing Is Disrupting The $439 Billion Semiconductor Industry?

How 3D Printing Is Disrupting The $439 Billion Semiconductor Industry?

Is 3D printing a solution to enhance supply chain resilience for such a core component of the modern tech world?


Conventional semiconductor manufacturing processes limit designers in terms of interconnect architecture, planarity, and substrate shape. In contrast, 3D printed circuit boards are not limited by subtractive manufacturing limitations, saving semiconductor companies a lot of time, effort, and money, and providing designers with increased freedom to design circuit boards with sophisticated architecture and customised designs as required.

Working with a system that is designed for 3D printing circuit boards is an excellent way to complement an existing semiconductor manufacturing process for low-volume, high-complexity boards. The layer-by-layer printing process allows low-volume manufacturing runs of boards with the desired level of complexity, including non-planar circuit boards and high-value boards with very complex shapes.

Why 3D Print Components?

Wafer table thermal management

Better thermal management of critical semiconductor equipment components, such as wafer tables, can improve semiconductor equipment accuracy by 1–2 nm and simultaneously improve speed and throughput. An increased machine speed and uptime leads to more wafers processed and higher overall lifecycle value.

During lithography, keeping temperatures within milliKelvin (mK) ranges is critical as any system disturbance has an impact. Through design for additive manufacturing (DfAM), it’s possible to optimise internal cooling channels and surface patterns, thus dramatically improving surface temperatures and thermal gradients while reducing time constants. A large semiconductor capital equipment manufacturer using AM to produce their wafer tables realised an 83% decrease in ΔT (13.8 to 2.3 mK), and a 5-time reduction in time to wafer stabilisation.

Another benefit of using AM to produce wafer tables is structural optimisation and tables with reduced part counts and assemblies. Producing parts using traditional technologies relies on brazing to join parts together, which is a lengthy, low-yield process with a 50% rejection rate. Replacing multipart assemblies with monolithic additively manufactured parts increases reliability, improves manufacturing yield and reduces labor costs.

Semiconductor wafer table thermal management - 3D Systems

Semiconductor wafer table thermal management – 3D Systems

Manifold fluid flow optimisation 

Using traditional manufacturing processes to produce complex fluid manifolds results in large, heavy parts that have non-optimal fluid flow due to abrupt transitions between components, and channels with sharp angles that lead to disturbance, pressure drops, stagnant zones and leakage.

When AM is employed to produce these same manifolds, engineers can optimise their designs to reduce pressure drop, mechanical disturbances and vibration. A 90% reduction in flow-induced disturbance forces reduces system vibration and realises a 1–2 nm accuracy improvement.

Structural optimisation and advanced flexures

AM gives designers the flexibility to optimise the structural topology of your part (i.e. lightweighting) with a suite of high-strength metal alloys. These designs can more precisely meet the performance requirements of semiconductor capital equipment, improve the strength-to-weight ratio and deliver a faster time to market. Lightweighting semiconductor components and advanced motion mechanisms reduces inertia and improves lithography and wafer processing machine speed and uptime, leading to more wafers processed. In one example, a semiconductor capital equipment manufacturer was able to employ AM to achieve greater than 50% weight reduction in flexures, 23% higher resonant frequency and reduced system vibration.

A likely scenario is that AM will significantly enable newer machines that are either shipping today or will be shipping in the next 1-2 years. With this runway, there is ample time for component and system level redesigns, which will increase productivity and quality. Additionally, the manufacturers will still have enough control over those systems to rigorously test and prove performance gains. 

However, while opportunities are indeed emerging, it’s not necessarily a new market for additive nor 3D Systems. At the 3D printing pioneer’s Leuven office in Belgium, major semiconductor equipment manufacturers are said to have been leveraging its direct metal printing for well over a decade. What began as a “secret metal printer” used to print parts as a service has matured to what Scott Green, Principal Solutions Leader at 3D Systems described as “a couple of hundred” successful production projects.

“There’s maybe ten areas in semiconductor capital equipment where we’re contributing regularly,” says Green, citing opportunities in lithography, wafer handling and metrology. Green also pointed to examples of recent large-format EUV (Extreme ultraviolet lithography) machines which can contain well over 100,000 parts.

“The needs and challenges of the semiconductor fabrication industry today are directly aligned with what a direct metal solution offers,” Green tells TCT magazine. “They have challenges where, in order to really push the limits of physics, you’ve got to totally eliminate uncertainty and noise inside of a system and really optimise all the parts of handling, cooling, fluid distribution, light collimation. It’s a very complex machine.”

The design freedoms and part consolidation afforded by additive could offer a solution for parts like heat exchangers, gas manifolds and nozzles. Instead of having tens of components vibrating against each other in an assembly, you could potentially reduce the number of moving parts and links in your supply chain down to one.

VELO3D is working in collaboration with Lam Research Corp to develop new 3D printing materials and applications for the semiconductor space. (Image credit: VELO3D)

VELO3D is working in collaboration with Lam Research Corp to develop new 3D printing materials and applications for the semiconductor space. (Image credit: VELO3D)

The Challenges of AM Adoption Moving Forward

3D printing electronic components is not without its hangups, however. In an interview with TCT Magazine, VELO3D CEO Benny Buller explains that AM is best used for replacing existing parts—not redesigning a system altogether

“When you are doing legacy parts that you are already producing in one way and just want an identical replacement by additive, the barrier for qualification is much lower,” he said. “But when you start having to redesign the system or the assembly so that you can manufacture, well that’s not fine, because now you’re driving yourself into a lot of risk.”

Buller also notes that AM struggles to deliver the cleanliness and surface control one would find in the cleanroom of a traditional fab. At each layer of the semiconductor fabrication process, wafers are expected to be free of particles that are nanometers in size. This attention-to-detail cannot be replicated in an at-home or in-office 3D-printing environment.

When dealing with the precise chemistries, gases and temperatures expected by the semiconductor industry, those risks simply cannot be afforded. Those same complexities, however, Buller believes suit the capabilities of additive well.

“These are the classical problems additive manufacturing is really good at,” Buller explains. “Control of heat, control of flow, whether it’s flow in gases, form of chemicals, whether it’s forming liquid flow, these are the places where additive manufacturing is really powerful.”

One crucial area where AM does present a challenge, however, is cleanliness, a field Buller is familiar with having spent the early years of his career on the inspection side of the semiconductor space.

“Additive manufacturing, compared to some other manufacturing technologies, has struggled delivering this level of surface cleanliness and this level of surface control,” Buller says of the intense cleanliness levels required at each layer on the semiconductor fabrication process. “When we are doing gas turbines or jet engines, they also care about surface finish but we are talking literally orders of magnitude difference … [The semiconductor industry] cares about particles that are two nanometers in size. It’s a completely different level of cleanliness that they have to deal with.”

Current opportunities for AM lie primarily in semiconductor capital equipment. It’s “the ultimate high volume manufacturing technology” according to Buller, with billions of parts produced every month, but per a recent report in the Harvard Business Review, funding and building out a new semiconductor fab can take at least five years. AM could offer a solution.

“Additive manufacturing has a lot of value to this industry, both in the ability to make better processes and to make equipment that is capable of more uniform, more controllable processes, new ways to make things that were not possible before,” Buller says. “It allows for a more agile supply chain and it helps with shorter lead times.”

There are however also specific opportunities in semiconductor devices themselves as Valentin Storz, General Manager of EMEA at Nano Dimension told TCT. Nano Dimension, a manufacturer of additive electronics systems, known for its DragonFly LDM technology which simultaneously deposits a dielectric polymer and nano-silver for circuitry, is said to operate between the worlds of PCB and semiconductor integrated circuits.

Storz says: “The whole story about IoT, Industry 4.0; everything will have an IP address and communicate. That means every part will become at some place connected and needs some circuitry, some antenna in it and with parts getting smaller and having new form factors, that’s a place for us.”

New opportunities, Storz offers, are those in 3D stacking of chips on top of each other or heterogeneous integration where different components such as circuitry, RF components, optics and potentially even cooling channels are integrated into one package.

Throughout these conversations, Moore’s Law, the notion that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, was a common thread. While the trend appears to be flattening in the semiconductor space, innovation continues apace as manufacturers strive to add more complexity to smaller chips and demand for new devices flourishes. It’s here, looking at that five-year roadmap towards next-generation semiconductor fabrication, better geometries and more uniform processes, where AM could find its sweet spot.

“Additive manufacturing allows [manufacturers] to innovate in directions that they couldn’t innovate before,” Buller concludes. “The moment this is demonstrated, that you can get to the cleanliness and you can get to the manufacturing quality that is required to support that, this will be a floodgate.”

Hexagon And Stratasys Collaboration Delivers Holistic 3D Printing Solutions

Hexagon And Stratasys Collaboration Delivers Holistic 3D Printing Solutions

Through the virtual engineering and manufacturing support provided by the partnership, customers will be able to reduce a two to three-year timescale of designing and testing a part to six to nine months.

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence Division has announced a new solution with Stratasys, a leader in polymer 3D printing solutions, to help manufacturers in the aerospace sector boost confidence in the performance and safety of 3D printed plastic components and compress time to market. Through the new partnership, users of Stratasys’ ULTEMTM 9085 filament can now use Hexagon’s Digimat material modeling software to predict how printed parts will perform.

Stratasys solutions deliver competitive advantages at every stage in the product value chain with innovative 3D printing solutions for industries such as aerospace, automotive, consumer products and healthcare.


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