ReviewAdditive Manufacture

Multiprocess 3D printing for increasing component functionality

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Science  30 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6307, aaf2093
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf2093

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Structured Abstract


Three-dimensional (3D) printing, known more formally as additive manufacturing, has become the focus of media and public attention in recent years as the decades-old technology has at last approached the performance necessary for direct production of end-use devices. The most popular forms of standard 3D printing include vat photopolymerization, powder bed fusion, material extrusion, sheet lamination, directed energy deposition, material jetting, and binder jetting, each creating parts layer by layer and offering different options in terms of cost, feature detail, and materials. Whereas traditional manufacturing technologies, such as casting, forging, machining, and injection molding, are well suited for mass production of identical commodity items, 3D printing allows for the creation of complex geometric shapes that can be mass-customized, because no die or mold is required and design concepts are translated into products through direct digital manufacturing. Furthermore, the additively layered approach enables the merging of multiple components into a single piece, which removes the requirement for subsequent assembly operations. Recently, the patents for the original 3D printing processes have begun to expire, which is resulting in a burgeoning number of low-cost desktop systems that provide increased accessibility to society at large. Industry has recognized the manufacturing advantages of these technologies and is investing in production systems to make complex components for jet engines, customized bodies for cars, and even pharmaceuticals. Although standard 3D printing technologies have advanced so that it is now possible to print in a wide range of materials including metals, ceramics, and polymers, the resulting structures are generally limited to a single material, or, at best, a limited number of compatible materials.


For the technology to become more widely adopted in mainstream manufacturing, 3D printing must provide end-use products by fabricating more than just simple structures with sufficient mechanical strength to retain shape. Recently, research has resulted in the capability to use new materials with commercial 3D printers, and customized printers have been enhanced with complementary traditional manufacturing processes, an approach known as multiprocess or hybrid 3D printing. Collectively, these advancements are leading to fabrications that are not only geometrically complex, but functionally complex as well. By introducing the robotic placement of components, micromachining for intricate detail, embedding of wires, and dispensing of functional inks, complex structures can be constructed with additional electronic, electromagnetic, optical, thermodynamic, chemical, and electromechanical content.


Multiprocess 3D printing is a nascent area of research in which basic 3D printing is augmented to fabricate structures with multifunctionality. Progress will lead to local manufacturing with customized 3D spatial control of material, geometry, and placement of subcomponents. This next generation of printers will allow for the fabrication of arbitrarily shaped end-use devices, leading to direct and distributed manufacturing of products ranging from human organs to satellites. The ramifications are substantial, given that 3D printing will enable the fabrication of customer-specific products locally and on demand, improving personalization and reducing shipping costs and delays. Examples could include replacement components for grain-milling equipment in a remote village in the developing world, biomedical devices created specifically for a patient in a hospital before surgery, and satellite components printed in orbit, thus avoiding the delays and costs associated with launch operations. The automotive, aerospace, defense, pharmaceutical, biomedical, and consumer industries, among others, will benefit from the new design and manufacturing freedom made possible by multiprocess 3D printing.

A long-exposure photo of the Multi3D Manufacturing system for multiprocess 3D printing.

Two production 3D printers are shown collaboratively printing, with a six-axis robot for conveyance and postprocess assembly. A central gantry in the background incorporatates other complementary manufacturing processes (machining, component placement, wire and foil embedding, and direct write) to provide geometrically complex structures combining polymers, metals, and active components.


Layer-by-layer deposition of materials to manufacture parts—better known as three-dimensional (3D) printing or additive manufacturing—has been flourishing as a fabrication process in the past several years and now can create complex geometries for use as models, assembly fixtures, and production molds. Increasing interest has focused on the use of this technology for direct manufacturing of production parts; however, it remains generally limited to single-material fabrication, which can limit the end-use functionality of the fabricated structures. The next generation of 3D printing will entail not only the integration of dissimilar materials but the embedding of active components in order to deliver functionality that was not possible previously. Examples could include arbitrarily shaped electronics with integrated microfluidic thermal management and intelligent prostheses custom-fit to the anatomy of a specific patient. We review the state of the art in multiprocess (or hybrid) 3D printing, in which complementary processes, both novel and traditional, are combined to advance the future of manufacturing.

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