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Hybrid 3D printing is a technology that combines additive manufacturing (AM) with subtractive manufacturing (SM) techniques to produce three dimensional (3D) objects of superior grade as compared to the objects created with 3D printing alone.
AM, which is otherwise referred to as 3D printing, has been one of the most revolutionary technologies of the 21st century. The concept of easily producing 3D structures that were originally based on a computer from a digital file known as the Computer Aided Design (CAD) file, has opened up endless possibilities of this technology to be utilized in wide variety of areas. Some of these applications include the creation of architectural models, prosthetic limbs, educational models, the development of prototypes and spare parts used in ship building, as well as various applications within the aeronautics and space industries2. Additionally, 3D printing also been used within the food industry to create a variety of delicacies.
Hybrid 3D printing and Its Advantages
Despite the wide spread applications of AM, this technology is associated with inherent limitations in regards to its ability to produce dimensional accuracy and surface finishing, particularly when 3D printed objects are compared to those created by SM techniques3. These differences are primarily attributed to the difficulty associated with obtaining a smooth finishing particularly when a finely milled part is being used.
To address this limitation, the development of hybrid manufacturing, which combines both AM with SM, has been introduced. In fact, several ‘Hybrid manufacturing’ companies currently offer kits that enable computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines to be integrated into AM systems3. Additionally, hybrid manufacturing technologies are capable of utilizing a wider variety of materials, including metals and alloys, to produce their final products. This improved versatility in printing materials has been associated with producing final printed products that exhibit greater strength and other characteristics that closely resemble those produced by the plastic injection parts. Additionally, hybrid manufacturing technologies has also been associated with producing products that exhibit a smooth surface finish that closely resembles those produced by SM technology3. Hybrid 3D printing has also been associated with reducing the number of assemblies, such as bolts, required to connect several complicated parts as a result of its ability to create single part with great strength., precision and finish4.
One of the biggest advantages associated with hybrid manufacturing technology is associated with its ability to repair or replace a damaged part. For example, it can be used to mill off a defective component of the machine and immediately start adding new material to fill in the trimmed part to replace fixtures, all the while ensuring that an exceptional surface finishing is maintained in the process4.
Limitations of Hybrid 3D Printing
Despite its numerous advantages, hybrid 3D printing requires a constant swapping of tools since this process involves periodic milling processes that must occurring during the AM process. As a result, hybrid 3D printing becomes a more time-consuming process than that which is required for traditional AM. Although hybrid manufacturing combines two expensive processes into a single machine, only one technique can be performed at a time4. It can be argued that it would be more efficient to run both of these technologies parallel to each other instead of combining them.
To address this limitation, a novel technology used by various companies, such as Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies and DMG Mori, known as automatic welding or directed energy deposition, incorporates a traditional welding process to hybrid 3D printing. Since this machine utilizes multiple tools and drill bits that are fitted in to their patented head, it improves the time required to complete a manufacturing technique as compared to the time typically required for traditional hybrid 3D printing.
Hybrid 3D printing in Aerospace Industry
As a result of its superior precision capabilities, repair ability and strength, hybrid 3D printers have been applied to a wide variety of industry purposes including the manufacturing of soft electronics, combined metals and alloys. One of the most important applications of hybrid 3D printing technologies to date involves its potential in the aerospace industry. In fact, Airbus has recently announced that it plans to 3D print 30 tons of metal parts, such as brackets and structural components of aircrafts, each month by the beginning of 20185.
Furthermore, General Electric (GE) is also planning to utilize hybrid 3D printing for the production of 25,000 LEAP engine nozzles, as this technique is particularly useful for reducing the size of jet engines5. In fact, it is predicted that 3D printing these parts can reduce the overall weight of a plane by more than 1 ton5. Hybrid 3D printing therefore offers the potential to drastically improve the fuel efficiency of applied aeronautic devices.
The application of hybrid 3D printing within the aerospace industry is also expected to improve the production of various parts by exhibiting specific surface areas, tolerances and geometrics according to the company’s needs5. For example, Made in Space, which is one of the first companies to launch a 3D printer in space, has recently obtained a new contract from NASA for its Vulcan hybrid 3D printer. Additionally, Made in Space is currently developing a mega robotic 3D printer Archinaut that is expected to be capable of constructing freeform objects in the vacuum of outerspace6.
The Vulcan 3D printer can be used to create 3D printed objects that are comprised of a variety of materials, those of particularly interest being metals. Interestingly, many of the small CubeSats satellites that have recently been sent into space were 3D printed6. NASA is now evaluating the performance of CubeSats for their ability to survive the radiation in space. If they are proved to be efficient, NASA is planning to let them orbit the mars in November6.
“What is 3D Printing?” – 3D Printing
“Learn how 3D Printing is Useful Everywhere” – Sculpteo
“Hybrid 3D Printing: What You Need to Know Now” – Digital Engineering
“The Top 5 Reasons Hybrid Additive Manufacturing Makes Sense” – Fabrisonic
“Aerospace Opportunities Demand Quick Resolution to 3D-Printing Issues” – Machine Design
“NASA Awards Made in Space New Contract for Vulcan Hybrid 3D Printer, Successfully Launches First Deep Space-Bound CubeSats” – 3D Print.com