A 16 March article in Automation World describes a new Stanley Black & Decker device (called the Inj3ctor) for manufacturing products from rubber by combining capabilities of injection molding and 3D printing.
What does it mean?
In the engineering program I used to chair, the course in manufacturing processes uses the well known textbook Introduction to Manufacturing Processes by Mikell P Groover, now in its 12th edition. As shown in the table of contents, the book covers materials and then describes a great number of processes such as casting; extrusion; coating; injection, blow, and rotational molding; pressing and sintering; forming; rolling; forging; drawing; machining; turning; drilling; grinding; annealing; plating; welding; assembly; fastening; and more.
Of course, any product is manufactured from a variety of materials using a variety of processes. Indeed, the crucial engineering knowledge is design, which involves selection of appropriate materials and processes to create a product with the capabilities desired by the customer. Look around you and just about any object you see was manufactured using a variety of processes in various combinations: a pen, a cellphone, a chair, a door.
The idea behind the Inj3ctor is not revolutionary – a mold is 3D printed and a flexible material, such as rubber, is then injected into the mold – but the marketing of the product as combining these manufacturing processes caught my eye.
What does it mean for you?
Right now, additive manufacturing is somewhere between experimental and routine, with new processes being invented and some processes becoming routine. The change in name from “rapid prototyping” to “additive manufacturing” indicated the trend toward making these processes routine. The make-versus-buy decision and distinction between the specialized shop and a general manufacturing plant will affect how much additive manufacturing get integrated into other processes or remains stand-alone, but the Inj3ctor tells me that additive manufacturing is well on its way to becoming routine.
In your manufacturing processes you are probably very much aware of places where additive manufacturing is being used, just as you know where you are using casting, molding, forging, or drilling, but in the future you will think less about the new or different aspects of additive manufacturing and think more about its use simply as another manufacturing processes. Engineers will routinely consider the materials and processes of additive manufacturing as part of their design of products.
Where can you learn more?
The best places to follow developments in additive manufacturing are still magazines and companies particular to those processes, for example, the information from Additive Manufacturing Media or this outlook from the company FormLabs. Another window into additive manufacturing is through applications in specific industries, such as medical devices or sports equipment.
General manufacturing magazines also cover additive manufacturing: Manufacturing Engineering from SME (Society for Manufacturing Engineering), Industrial Machinery Digest, Manufacturing News, Manufacturing Today, The Manufacturer, and more.
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