Can tech-chal­lenged coun­tries leapfrog to 3D print­ing?

Daily Trust - - IT WORLD -

Un­doubt­edly, man­u­fac­tur­ing is the old guard of the econ­omy. For a coun­try, it is ei­ther you man­u­fac­ture or you per­ish; mean­ing your econ­omy will suf­fer and you will for­ever be vul­ner­a­ble as you de­pend on others to meet your ba­sic needs. While coun­tries like the United States and many in Europe pos­sess a spec­trum of knowhow that inched them into the arena of civ­i­liza­tion, Asian coun­tries - ex­em­pli­fied by Japan and South Korea - have earned the ti­tle of be­ing de­vel­oped based mostly on their coun­try’s man­u­fac­tur­ing prow­ess. Even China, the no­to­ri­ety it has ac­quired in the past decade has been rooted in the coun­try’s strate­gic fo­cus on man­u­fac­tur­ing. So, man­u­fac­tur­ing is se­ri­ous mat­ter.

As pointed out in a pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle in this col­umn, the most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of 3D Print­ing is that it is an ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing process. This is un­like in­jec­tion or com­pres­sion mould­ing of plas­tics or the cast­ing of me­tals. In these pro­cesses, you fill a cav­ity in the shape of the build ma­te­rial with the flow­ing form of the ma­te­rial, fol­lowed by cool­ing and so­lid­i­fi­ca­tion. In sub­trac­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, which is a com­mon tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing process, you start out with a block of the build ma­te­rial, and sys­tem­at­i­cally re­move (sub­tract) parts in or­der to ar­rive at the de­sired shape of your ob­ject. On the other hand, 3D Print­ing builds parts up ad­di­tively, layer by layer, us­ing a va­ri­ety of ways that de­pend on the par­tic­u­lar process used. Fur­ther­more, tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion sys­tems of­ten re­quire ex­pen­sive tool­ing, fix­tures, and the need to as­sem­ble parts. Sub­trac­tive pro­cesses lead to sig­nif­i­cant waste of ma­te­ri­als.

3D print­ing, which was con­ceived in the early eight­ies, started out as a pro­to­typ­ing method; or, more specif­i­cally, as a Rapid pro­to­typ­ing method. This in­volves rapidly pro­duc­ing - of­ten ge­o­met­ri­callyscaled down repli­cas (pro­to­types) of an ob­ject (in a rapid fash­ion) that al­lows you to carry out many it­er­a­tions un­til the process is per­fected and the ac­tual ob­ject can be built.

Ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing (AM), which, as al­luded to above, refers to the com­mon tech­nique used in 3D print­ing wherein the parts are suc­ces­sively (ad­di­tively) lay­ered, started with the man­u­fac­tur­ing of com­plex plas­tic parts, but it has now been ex­tended to the fab­ri­ca­tion of in­tri­cate metal parts. The at­trac­tive­ness of AM in­cludes the au­toma­tion, with the spe­cific ad­van­tage that you do not need to have any real skills in man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses be­fore you build your parts. The tech­nique is quite amenable to high speed fab­ri­ca­tion and the abil­ity to fab­ri­cate com­plex parts. It re­quires that com­put­eraided draw­ing of the part, gen­er­ated us­ing com­puter-aided de­sign (CAD) tools such as Au­toCAD, NX, and Pro-En­gi­neer, be fed into com­put­er­con­trolled fab­ri­ca­tion ma­chines, which au­to­mat­i­cally fab­ri­cate the phys­i­cal com­po­nent us­ing the in­for­ma­tion con­tained in the dig­i­tal file.

So far-along is 3D print­ing that the United States Navy is 3D-print­ing sub­mersible ve­hi­cles. An­drew Lip­tak de­scribes this in his 29 July 2017 ar­ti­cle, say­ing that: “Mil­i­taries around the world have eyed 3D print­ing as a cost and time-ef­fec­tive re­source for fu­ture mis­sions, whether it’s print­ing up re­place­ment parts for war­planes, grenade launch­ers, or meals for sol­diers.”

The Navy team that is build­ing up the sea ve­hi­cles re­port­edly be­gan their work in Au­gust 2016, us­ing a “mas­sive in­dus­trial 3D Printer called Big Area Ad­di­tive Man­u­fac­tur­ing (BAAM) to man­u­fac­ture six car­bon fi­bre sec­tions, which were then as­sem­bled into the 30 foot long ve­hi­cle.” Ac­cord­ing to Lip­tak, the team was given four weeks to de­velop the hull, spend­ing the first week de­sign­ing it, and be­gan print­ing the com­po­nents a week later. It’s now the Navy’s largest 3D printed as­set. Lip­tak, quot­ing the US Depart­ment of En­ergy, says that a tra­di­tional hull “ranges from $600,000 to $800,000 and typ­i­cally takes 3-5 months to man­u­fac­ture,” while this 3D-printed ver­sion was 90 per­cent cheaper and was pro­duced within “a mat­ter of days.” The value of fast turn­around can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated, es­pe­cially in mil­i­tary mat­ters. Note, how­ever, that the fab­ri­cated ve­hi­cle al­luded to in this ar­ti­cle is not a work­ing ma­chine, but rather a proof-of­con­cept; but the team is re­port­edly on its way to print­ing up a sec­ond, wa­ter­tight ver­sion of the sub­ma­rine that will un­dergo prac­ti­cal wa­ter test­ing, with “fleet-ca­pa­ble pro­to­types” that could po­ten­tially be in­tro­duced for use as early as 2019.

Ob­vi­ously, poor and emerg­ing coun­tries wouldn’t be fo­cus­ing on the 3D print­ing of mil­i­tary ar­se­nals, but will be ex­pected to rather fo­cus on more ex­is­ten­tial ob­jec­tives. More­over, the tech-chal­lenged coun­tries of the world have not mas­tered the more tra­di­tional man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses. The ques­tion then is whether or not they can just leapfrog to ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing us­ing AM, with­out mak­ing up for the deep slack in the tra­di­tional, high-skill-de­mand­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses. It seems this is a pos­si­bil­ity, par­tic­u­larly if the AM tech­nique is de­vel­oped to per­fec­tion, ren­der­ing the man­u­fac­tur­ing of vir­tu­ally any me­chan­i­cal part a “black box” op­er­a­tion. Poor and emerg­ing coun­tries have leapfrogged be­fore; for ex­am­ple, on tele­phony and smart de­vices. That is, vir­tu­ally every­one in most African coun­tries has a cell phone to­day; whereas the tech­nol­ogy of lan­d­line tele­phony in those coun­tries is far from be­ing well de­vel­oped.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.