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Making Waves in the Transport Industry

Pardon the pun, but 3D printing is making great inroads into the transport industry.

Not just on the roads though. This week you may have seen this video from the University of Maine revealing the first entirely 3D printed boat, printed by the world’s largest 3D printer. This printer can print objects up to a hundred feet long and managed to turn out this 25-foot patrol boat in 72 hours.

With 3D printing usually used to produce components, it’s quite staggering to see how far we’ve come with a printer able to produce an entire vehicle. In one go.

World firsts aside, Additive Manufacturing has a really important function to play in the transport industry. Current political events (or non-events, depending on your view) have brought the just-in-time supply of automotive parts into the news and the public consciousness. And that’s where 3D printing is making a difference, printing parts as needed and also allowing for customisation, a generative approach to design and multiple iterations.

Automotive and Aerospace have been utilising additive manufacturing for several years now thanks to the materials readily available such as Ultem 9085 and Antero 800 – exclusively available on Stratasys printers. These materials adhere to the specific ratings and certifications required by the industry. End-use parts for Aerospace include covers panels, cubicles, overhead compartments and intricate small or mass parts such as grips. 3D printing allows the Aerospace industry to cut costs and reduce wastage.

Things are slightly different in the Automotive world. Although 3D printing has a part to play, due to the mass-produced elements required for commercial and domestic vehicles, it usually works out much cheaper and potentially quicker to use traditional methods of manufacturing such as injection moulding. Where 3D printing comes in is for bespoke car models, one-offs, F1 and GT race cars as well as prototype models, we’ve in fact been lucky enough to work with clients on GT Race cars, creating elements such as cool-air ducting.

Whilst Aerospace and Automotive manufacturers have been utilising the opportunities that 3D printing provide, the Rail industry is relatively late to the party.

Locomotive and mechanical designer engineers are now looking to additive manufacturing to replace many of their traditional methods, such as injection moulding or casting to produce end-parts. Elements such as body panels and grip handles can be easily printed to order, eliminating material wastage and cutting costs for the transport industry.

The only machine that makes the cut for this industry is the Stratasys Fortus series, this is due to their exclusive development of EN45545-2 certified materials. Global Railway Review announced that Stratasys would exhibit at Railtex this year, showcasing their 450mc printer and its game-changing printing capabilities, ‘one of the company’s most advanced FDM-based additive manufacturing solutions – the Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer. Enabling manufacturers in the transport industry to produce complex parts for low-volume production applications, tooling and prototyping, the machine offers robust, engineering-grade thermoplastics to build strong, long-lasting and dimensionally stable parts.’

One of the most exciting parts of this machine is the materials it can use, and what that means for the transport industry, ‘This includes, the new, high-performance Antero™ 800 NA, a PEKK-based thermoplastic. Antero 800 NA outperforms other high-performance thermoplastics with its superior chemical resistance, ultra-low outgassing, high-temperature resistance and exceptional wear properties.’

Of course, the Transportation Industry is notoriously protective of its ideas and puts a high price on secrecy so unfortunately, we can’t talk about much of our work in this area. But while we do have clients in the car, rail and aerospace industry, we’re yet to launch ourselves into boats!

And on the printer front, there’s a new kid on the block! We’re now one of the only 3D printing bureaus in the UK with the rather sizeable Stratasys Fortus F900. This big machine is built specifically for manufacturing and heavy industries such as transport. With the largest build size of any FDM system (that’s 914.4 x 609.6 x 914.4 mm to be precise) it's already in high demand, printing large components - at speed.

This machine uses Antero 800 and Nylon Carbon Fibre, amongst other materials, ideal for the transport industry as not only do these materials adhere to the strict regulations and certification required by the transport industry, they are reliable and durable.