Manufacturing by Solid Freeform Fabrication
The SFF/RP industry has grown steadily with the most significant gains made in the number of models produced per year – three million in the year 2000. Future growth is most likely to be in manufacturing applications of SFF where even a single application can double the number of models/parts produced annually. There are a number of factors or drivers which can motivate a manufacturing application of SFF either individually or in combination. These drivers include: i. avoid conventional tooling, ii. minimizing hand work, iii. mass customization, iv. geometric flexibility, v. local control of composition. The most intriguing of these drivers is that of mass customization – the manufacture of highly individual products, but on a mass scale. SFF offers the possibility of mass customization of components with complex 3D geometry. A prominent current example is that of Align Technology of Santa Clara, CA which produces unique plastic aligners for orthodontic applications. There already are manufacturing applications where the advantages offered by SFF are so compelling as to overcome any barriers. However, widespread impact of SFF on manufacturing will depend on overcoming several barriers. The essence of these barriers lies in the distinction between prototyping and manufacturing. Manufacturing applications are far more demanding in terms of build rate and associated cost, demands on dimensional control and tolerances, properties of materials, and ease of use and serviceability of equipment.