3D Printing Lauded at METS Breakfast Briefing

High-tech manufacturing was the focus of the Tuesday morning Breakfast Briefing to kick off 2015 Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. In his keynote address, Peter Sander, manager of emerging technologies and concepts at Airbus Industries, spoke about his company's experience with 3D printing and the potential for the technology to significantly impact every manufacturing industry, including recreational boating.

Sander provided several examples of Airbus Industries adoption of 3D printing, also known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) technology, to manufacture complex aircraft parts from a variety of plastics and high-strength aluminum alloys. "We say ‘3D printing' but it is really successive welding,'' said Sander. "Each successive layer adds to the one before it, allowing you to produce extremely complex parts without having to perform extensive machining or purchase specialized tooling. It also reduces the need to assemble complex components from multiple pieces. You can create compound parts that are stronger and lighter, and you can produce them at much lower cost.'

The ability for the technology to greatly simplify production processes was emphasized by Sander, citing an example from NASA where ALM allowed a single assembly used in a rocket engine to be reduced from 115 parts to just two. Additional benefits include the ability to greatly reduce product development times and costs.

3D printing was also touted as an inexpensive means of achieving mass customization – producing unique components without incurring expensive tooling and machining expenses. Sander provided a boat cleat as an example, which could be produced in unique versions with different manufacturer logos or model names at the click of a mouse. "The technology allows components to be made on an as-needed basis,' said Sander. Companies no longer need to tie up capital by maintaining an inventory of expensive parts.'

METS runs through Thursday at the Rai conference center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.