The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing has developed a ‘game-changing’ hybrid 3D printing process that could find a broad application across a number of industries such as medical, aerospace and automotive.
The patent-pending ‘THREAD’ process allows electrical, optical and structural elements to be introduced throughout an additively manufactured component during the build process.
This fully automated process allows components to be manufactured with in-built, continuous connectivity and additional functionality passing through the X, Y and Z axes and is suited to a variety of additive manufacturing (AM) platforms.
AMRC Development Engineer and AM specialist Mark Cocking said THREAD has so far been successfully demonstrated on machines used for 3D printing polymer components.
“THREAD has scope to simultaneously add multiple industry-recognised threads of differing materials into one component, giving the component additional functions. This will open AM up to a greater variety of uses,” Mr Cocking said.
“The development of this process is a potential game-changer. It could be used across many sectors such as medical, aerospace and automotive; where weight and size of components is critical or where components would benefit from integrated data transfer and the protection of sealed connective tracks.”
THREAD is expected to provide a significant advantage in the manufacture of components requiring encapsulated electronics (such as those used in medical prosthetics and consumer electronics) which until now had been secured externally.
According to Mr Cocking, the nature of the ‘sealed’ conductive tracks could provide additional protection for components which may be sensitive to contamination from debris, corrosion or impact.
“THREAD has potential to be developed as an add-on technology for existing AM platforms and also incorporated into next generation AM technologies,” Mr Cocking added.
Chris Iveson, who is driving the commercialisation of the technology, said THREAD is expected to transform the functionality of 3D printed components.
“Feedback from our contacts in various industries indicates a real need for this capability, with new potential applications being discussed daily,” Mr Iverson said.
“This is a great example of the AMRC using its unique expertise to solve real industry problems.”