We frequently hear about the ways 3-D printing will change the manufacturing industry, allowing greater precision and lower costs in anything from airplane parts to custom chocolates. Now GE is starting a lab at its research headquarters designed to turn 3-D printing into a manufacturing mainstay, using it to make medical equipment and more.
Additive manufacturing could be a simple way to produce intricate parts for complex machines, according to a GE blog post by Scott Smith, a diagnostics and biomedical imaging researcher at GE Global Research. Recent improvements in 3-D printers can manufacture tiny components from a wide range of materials, from ceramics to metals.
GE engineers have started using a 3-D printer to make transducers for portable ultrasound devices. The transducer is the part that goes against your skin, transforming electrical signals into sound waves. They consist of thousands of tiny, ultra-thin columns, which GE currently makes by slicing and dicing ceramic. That process is tedious and expensive, and can only be used to make a few shapes — different sizes require different cutting tools.
Instead, researchers developed a new 3-D printing method involving a ceramic slurry exposed to an ultraviolet light. It solidifies when exposed to the light, and in this way, the transducers are built up layer by layer, rather than carved away. Technology Review explains it in more detail.
It's not ready for mass production yet, but it is much faster and less resource-intensive than the current manufacturing methods, so it could lower costs, Tech Review explains. Eventually, GE could produce a host of transducer sizes and arrays on a single 3-D printer, leading to higher-resolution ultrasounds.
The team is also using ceramics to print airplane components, already employed at European firm EADS. The aerospace giant is printing aircraft parts, including lightweight brackets and other components, aiming to eventually print an entire airplane wing.
Several limitations remain, however, including the size of materials GE can print with its current machines. So it's not spitting out complete wind turbines or buildings on the moon — at least not yet — but it's a step in the right direction.
sounds like it would reduce waste too
This is really amazing technology incorporating robotics. It kind of makes me wonder, if thew can print products like plates,spoons,forks, and cups out of ceramic or plastic them maybe they can print cooked food. Just add the microwave, and convection oven then you have one of those food replicators you see in the science fiction episodes of Star Trek.
Sooner or later companies will find ways of printing a whole house or apartment complex. Then run all the electrical, plumbing, gas, and communications lines later in pre built raceways and access holes that where printed into the design.
in actual fact you could put in all wiring and plumbing in a house and even paint the walls. Perhaps when fabric 3d printing occurs you may be able to furnish the house too. Because atm they can print plastic pipes and metal cores for wire, technically there isn't anything wrong with that. Just gotta get the source material right and by the sounds of it they are making progress fast in that area.