The “Office of the Future” in Dubai, UAE: the most advanced 3D printed building in the world and als

The “Office of the Future” in Dubai, UAE: the most advanced 3D printed building in the world and als

3D printing is next frontier

3D printing has an enormous potential to disrupt traditional manufacturing and offers the GCC region a wealth of benefits, writes ABDULAZIZ KHATTAK

March 2019

The GCC could well be amongst the best places to practice 3D printing, a technology that has the disruptive potential to significantly change the landscape of a number of industries.

A number of public and private sector initiatives in the region show there is an earnest realisation that 3D printing can be enormously beneficial.

In fact, Dubai has even launched a 3D Printing Strategy that aims to exploit the technology for the service of humanity and promote the status of the UAE and Dubai as a leading hub of 3D printing technology by the year 2030.

In the Gulf, the UAE is a leader in the segment. Officials have gone on record to announce that 25 per cent of buildings will be based on 3D printing technology by 2030 and 3D printed artificial limbs will be available by 2025.

Michael Petch, editor-in-chief of 3D Printing Industry, said the aerospace and medical sectors are benefiting substantially from 3D printing. He said, for example, leading 3D printing companies like Strata Manufacturing, Big Rep and EOS are working with Etihad Airways on a range of exciting projects:

In Qatar, 3D printing played a pivotal role in the separation procedure of conjoined twins. 3D printed models of the twin’s abdomen and liver were used to plan for the procedure.

A Saudi company, Al Mobty Contracting, meanwhile signed an agreement worth $1.5 billion with Chinese 3D printing company Winsun to 3D print 1.5 million homes.

And in Bahrain, years back experts submerged nearly 3,000 concrete Reef Balls and custom designed reef units using 3D printing, successfully attracting new fish populations and helping replace some of the reefs Bahrain has lost.

But what is this buzz around 3D printing and is it as some call it, bigger than the internet?

According to an AT Kearney analysis, 3D printing is poised to disrupt and redistribute $4 to 6 trillion of the global economy in the next five to 10 years.

And what is 3D printing? Put simply, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a catchall term for a group of technologies concerned with making stuff, said Petch. But while the exact technologies differ, as a group they can be contrasted with traditional subtractive manufacturing.

3D printing began in the 1980s when Chuck Hull designed and printed a small cup. Today, 3D printing is growing at an annual rate of 12.5 per cent, with sales by large public companies predicted to cross surpass $2.7 billion in 2019 and top $3 billion in 2020, according to Deloitte Global.

Considering that the global manufacturing sector is valued at approximately $12 trillion annually, the technology has a lot of area to cover. There are five key industries that have the greatest potential to be transformed by 3D printing: heavy industry, automotive, consumer products, healthcare and medical, and aerospace. These industries account for an estimated 76 per cent of the global manufacturing sector, or $9 trillion per year of total output.

Based on results of a survey by industry experts, 23 per cent to 40 per cent of parts in these industries will be manufactured by 3D printing in the next five to 10 years.

But the impact can be as far as space technology. Last month Copper 3D, a US-based Chilean 3D printing materials company, received a grant from NASA to test the properties of antibacterial 3D printing materials for medical devices on the International Space Station.

The benefits of this technology are many. But often the people using 3D printing to the biggest advantage are quiet about it – they don’t want the competition to know their secret advantage, said Petch.

In today’s increasingly complex production and sustainment environments, more and more organisations are responding to constraints in their supply chain and manufacturing operations by looking to 3D printing.

For manufacturers, having 3D printers and raw materials will enable drastic reduction in inventory and enable cost-effective customisation. It will fundamentally change today’s complex supply chain, moving manufacturing closer to consumption.

The technology is also reducing the barrier to entry in manufacturing and production of goods, driving a democratisation of manufacturing that will fundamentally change entire value chains, from complex global supply to local ecosystems.

Collaterally, 3D printing will disrupt the existing manufacturing structure and redistribute jobs across the globe. In 2018, the two most popular applications of 3D printing were production (43 per cent) and prototypying (55 per cent), these were followed by proof of concept (41 per cent), marketing samples (18 per cent), and art and education (16 per cent each).

It is worth knowing that all 3D printers do not use the same technology. Some of the broadly used 3D printing technologies today include stereolithography (SLA), fused deposition modelling (FDM), selective laser sintering (SLS), laminated object manufacturing (LOM), and digital Light Processing (DLP).

Most materials used in 3D printing are thermoplastics. However, as the technology matures, researchers are finding new materials, even edible, that can be 3D printed.

According to Deloitte Global, the biggest shift in this regard has often been away from plastic and toward metal printing. Plastic is fine for prototypes and certain final parts, but the trillion-dollar metal-parts fabrication market is the more important market for 3D printers to address.

Between 2017 and 2018, a 3D-printing industry survey showed that the share of plastic in 3D printing fell from 88 to 65 per cent, while that of metal printing rose from 28 to 36 per cent. At that rate, it seems probable that metal will overtake plastics and represent more than half of all 3D printing as soon as 2020 or 2021.

Another factor is speed, said Deloitte Global. The initial printers were painfully slow, but things have changed since 2014. The 3D printers on the market in 2019 are twice as fast. However, the print time can vary by the complexity of the shape being made, the quality of the print job, and/or the materials being used.

Deloitte Global also argued that 3D printers are not always the right tool for the job, and for the foreseeable future, most parts will still likely be created by casting, forging, stamping, moulding, and the like; a small proportion will be made with CNC machines, and an even smaller proportion will be made with 3D printing. But even 1 per cent of a multitrillion-dollar global parts industry – the annual metal parts industry alone is worth a trillion dollars – is still a large opportunity.

More Stories