3D printing steps up to COVID-19

3D printing is coming into its own during the COVID-19 pandemic, printing essential items to help defend against coronavirus.

Johannesburg, 01 Apr 2020
Read time 4min 20sec
Pauline Bullock, Director, Akhani 3D
Pauline Bullock, Director, Akhani 3D

Pauline Bullock, a director of Akhani 3D printing service, says the first thing people say to her at trade shows or when she tells people what she does, is: ‘Did you see they’ve 3D printed a heart?’ While we’re a way off 3D printing hearts to order, 3D printing is making an invaluable contribution in a number of medical applications – mostly importantly in the current fight against coronavirus.

Not only are 3D printers being used to print ventilator valves to help fight coronavirus in Italy, they’re also being used to print face shields and test swabs, among other essential items. In fact, the international 3D printing sector is really coming to the fore with innovative ways of creating much-needed items pretty much on demand, says Bullock.

“People don’t always understand what 3D printing is, and as such, don’t realise its potential. Also called additive manufacturing, it’s the process of creating an object by building it up from nothing. You take a 3D digital representation of a physical object, slice it up, and then build the item one slice at a time.”

3D printing really comes into its own when it comes to complex, smaller components, as was seen in their use to manufacture ventilator valves. “One of the biggest benefits of 3D printing is that complexity is free. With conventional manufacturing, part complexity is governed by your tooling capabilities. With additive manufacturing you can build geometries that are not really possible any other way,” she explains.

3D printing bureaus worldwide are rising to the occasion to assist during the current pandemic that’s sweeping the world, while their suppliers are developing innovative materials to help them deliver on the new designs.

Bullock says: “Having lived with the real and sometimes unfulfilled promises of 3D printing over the past 15 or so years, we’re constantly looking to new developments in 3D printing, carefully sorting the hype from the real world. Finally, we’re seeing the technology coming into its own, making valid contributions, especially in the case of this new challenge that the world faces.”

When it comes to new 3D printing technologies and capabilities, businesses have to reconsider their existing business models or join the dinosaurs as they face manufacturing irrelevance and, ultimately, extinction.”

Industry 4.0 is real and part of a revolution that’s taking place right under our noses. A revolution that will disrupt strong, established manufacturing businesses if they do not embrace those technologies and gain an understanding of how to deploy those technologies in their industries.”

The capabilities of additive manufacturing technologies has moved far beyond that of those initial 3D printing technologies of old, and today includes:

  • Stereolithography (SLA/DLP): This process uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin cured by ultraviolet laser to create solid 3D models.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Employs a high power laser to fuse plastic powders into finished prototypes and functional end-use components.
  • Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): Uses a plastic filament, unwound from a coil to supply material to produce a part.
  • Composite (FFF): FFF parts printed with continuous fibre reinforcement using carbon fibre, fibre glass, kevlar and high temp fibre glass.
  • ColorJet Printing (CJP): Using an inkjet-like printing head to selectively deposit a coloured liquid binding over a bed of powder material we are able to create full colour finished parts.
  • MultiJet Printing (MJP): Prints thin layers of UV curable liquid plastics and wax support materials to create high resolution fully cured plastic parts.
  • Direct Metal 3D Printing (DMP): Uses additive manufacturing technology. A high-precision laser is used on metal powder particles, producing horizontal metal layers. The following is currently possible
    • 3D 316L stainless steel printing;
    • 3D aluminium 6061 printing; and
    • 3D MS1 Maraging Steel printing.
  • Dyemansion Polyshot Surfacing: The most efficient process on the market to achieve the best end-use part finish. It does not remove any material and works perfectly for hard plastics like PA12 or PA11 across all geometries.
  • Dyemansion Deepdye Colouring (DDC): Offers unlimited colour choices. In addition to over 170 RAL and standardised colours, which are ready to use without additional development costs and waiting times, colour matching capabilities offer the possibility of creating individual tones – from corporate colours to seasonal trend colours and individual skin tones.

“With all these technologies at our fingertips and a continuous stream of projects – covering the straightforward, all the way through to imaginative, boundary-pushing designs such as those in the media at the moment – we’re living the 3D printing dream,” Bullock concludes.

Akhani 3D is a subsidiary of Kemtek Imaging Systems.


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