In today's accelerating adoption of new digital technologies, one of the areas that is rapidly gaining momentum, and the interest of the chemical process industries (CPI), is additive manufacturing (AM) – more commonly referred to as 3D printing.
According to Formlabs (www.formlabs.com), a 3D-printing company headquartered in Massachusetts, the 3D-printing market had sales of $6 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow to a market size of $22 billion by 2022. One big advantage of 3D printing is that it can increase the efficiency of maintenance activities, making it less expensive and faster to create replacement parts and customized products. Reduced costs, less waste and more environmentally friendly operations are some of the benefits attributed to this technology.
The CPI invest in 3D printing
In addition to the benefits of using 3D technology in their own businesses, the CPI are suppliers of new materials for this booming field and are directly influencing its growth.
Arkema (www.arkema.com) recently inaugurated a Global Center of Excellence for 3D Printing in Normandy, France. The center will be dedicated to AM by powder-bed fusion, based on high-performance polymers. The new center is said to complement the company's two other centers, both in Pennsylvania, for photocure liquid resins and for filament extrusion. The company says its "investments in 3D-printing innovation represent several tens of millions of euros per year."
BASF (www.basf.com) announced in November that it was acquiring Sculpteo, an online 3D-printing service provider to enhance BASF's ability to provide innovative industrial 3D printing solutions. Sculpteo (www.sculpteo.com) issues an annual report called the State of 3D Printing, which can be found on its website.
Covestro (www.covestro.com) is upgrading its laboratories for 3D printing at its Leverkusen, Pittsburgh and Shanghai sites, where in collaboration with customers, it develops and tests materials for AM. Covestro supplies polycarbonate for the 3D-printing manufacture of light fixtures – which it says is a highly flexible and more sustainable way to manufacture these items.
Much more news and latest developments about the CPI and AM can be found on our website (www.chemengonline.com).
Developments in biomaterials
Developments in AM are moving beyond the realm of plastics, metals and ceramics to bio-based materials. Last month, the Lonza Group (www.lonza.com) and Allevi (www.allevi3d.com) announced that they were collaborating on 3D bioprinting – a promising technology for engineering complex tissues needed for pharmaceutical research.
Recently, researchers at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (www.rpi.edu) reported developments in 3D-printed living skin, complete with blood vessels. And, researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering (wyss.harvard.edu), and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences reported a new technique called SWIFT (sacrificial writing into functional tissue) that is said to yield organ-specific tissues, which the researchers say could ultimately be used to repair human organs.
Still in its early years of development, 3D printing offers new possibilities across a broad spectrum of applications with promising opportunities for the CPI.■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director