Friday, December 23, 2011

Layer by Layer

BRT has talked about 3D stereo lithography numerous times as this tech, will, in time, change how man makes things, especially when the technique employs sophisticated methodologies similar to what GE is using to build jet engines.

To do it, a laser traces out the shape of the injector's cross-section on a bed of cobalt-chrome powder, fusing the powder into solid form to build up the injector one ultrathin layer at a time. This promises to be less expensive than traditional manufacturing methods, and it should lead to a lighter part—which is to say a better one. The first parts will go into jet engines, says Prabhjot Singh, who runs a lab at GE that focuses on improving and applying this and similar 3-D printing processes. But, he adds, "there's not a day we don't hear from one of the other divisions at GE interested in using this technology."

These innovations are at the forefront of a radical change in manufacturing technology that is especially appealing in advanced applications like aerospace and cars. The 3-D printing techniques won't just make it more efficient to produce existing parts. They will also make it possible to produce things that weren't even conceivable before—like parts with complex, scooped-out shapes that minimize weight without sacrificing strength. Unlike machining processes, which can leave up to 90 percent of the material on the floor, 3-D printing leaves virtually no waste—a huge consideration with expensive metals such as titanium. The technology could also reduce the need to store parts in inventory, because it's just as easy to print another part—or an improved version of it—10 years after the first one was made. An automobile manufacturer receiving reports of a failure in a seat belt mechanism could have a reconfigured version on its way to dealers within days.

With a bit of luck, society can survive in this age of peak oil but only if transparency is forced upon governance, corporate and finance before it's too late.
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