The growth of aluminium cans in the global market seems to be becoming insurmountable owing to the factors like disposable income of people, changing lifestyle, and evolving consumer preferences. Continuous shifts from plastic bottles to aluminium cans have triggered the demand further. Initiatives taken by some of the leading companies, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsico in the US and Toast Ale and Svyatoy Istochnik in Europe, to switch to aluminium cans from plastic bottles have already done several roundups in the market this year. They are either replacing their existing products range or launching new ones in aluminium cans. Aluminium cans production and uses
According to a report, the global aluminium cans market approximately generated US$39.41 billion in 2018, which by 2025 is estimated to reach US$48.15 billion, at a CAGR of around 2.9 per cent. This growth is expected to be driven largely by increased consumption in emerging markets, mostly in China and the rest of Asia, Europe, and South America.
The United States roughly produces 88.5 billion aluminium beverage cans, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute. To expand it further, the aluminium cans manufacturing companies are adopting new technologies and developments to ramp-up the output. This year, Fernson Brewing Company has installed WaveGrip’s G1 multi-packing applicator, which will help it increase the cans production.
In Europe, CANPACK is investing in a new aluminium beverage can factory in the western Czech Republic, which will expectedly boost the production capacity of aluminium beverage cans to around 25 billion per year. As of now, Europe on an average produces 98 billion cans every year and uses up to 50 billion units, according to the data shared by Metal Packaging Europe and the European Aluminium Association.
Besides, international packaging manufacturer Jamestrong Packaging has inaugurated a $15 million can facility in Auckland, NZ, following an increased demand for New Zealand baby formula. The facility will manufacture 50 million cans per annum, and at the appropriate time a second line can be dropped into the state-of-the-art facility, effectively doubling that capacity.
In India, which is also gearing up for the increase use of aluminium cans to pack beverages, Hindalco Industries Ltd, Ball Beverage Packaging (India) Pvt Ltd and Can-Pack India Pvt Ltd are reportedly preparing to launch a consortium called Aluminium Beverages Can Association of India (ABCAI). The consortium aims to build sustainable aluminium beverage packaging practices to bring about a quantum positive impact on business, environment and society.
By 2030, India is estimated to see an eightfold growth in the consumption of aluminium cans, projected Ball Beverage Packaging (India). The present per capita aluminium can consumption in India stands at around one per annum, compared with 70 per annum in Vietnam and 40 per annum in China. Wood Mackenzie research shows that replacing 7.7 billion plastic water bottles a year with 7.7 billion aluminium cans would require 99,000 tonnes of additional aluminium sheet stock.
Aluminium cans recycle programmes
The increasing rate of recycling also indicates the growing consumption of aluminium cans across the globe. Brazil, the world leader in aluminium can recycling since 2001, reports a recycling rate of 98.4 per cent. As per the data shared by The Brazilian Aluminum Association (ABAL) and the Brazilian Association of Highly Recyclable Cans Manufacturers (ABRALATAS), the country in 2014 had recycled 289,500 tonnes of aluminum beverage cans out of the 294,200 tonnes available in the market. In the said year, aluminium can collection had injected R$ 845 million in the country´s economy, contributing to generating income and jobs for thousands of waste pickers.
In Europe, the aluminium can recycling has reached an all-time record of 74.5%, with an overall recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland in 2017 rose 2.3%. Almost 31 billion cans were recycled in the EU and EFTA countries, representing a total of more than 420,000 tonnes of aluminium and underscoring its contribution to the European circular economy.
With the aim to increase the recycling rate further, the supermarket giant Sainsbury’s at its Braehead store in Glasgow rolled out reverse vending machine scheme, allowing customers to deposit plastic bottles of any size up to 3 litres and aluminium drink cans in a machine in exchange for a coupon worth £5 per item towards their shopping.
Veolia, in partnership with the restaurant chain Leon, also introduced a reverse vending machine that would accept aluminium cans and plastic bottles in return for 10% discount at the nearest Leon restaurant. The machine, located at King’s Cross branch in London, would take used aluminium cans and plastic bottles up to 750ml.
According to another report in July, Russian food retailer X5 Group, in association with Coca-Cola would also test reverse vending machines in Pyaterochka stores in Moscow, aiming to collect and recycle used plastic bottles and aluminium beverage cans of different brands.
The recycle of the aluminium cans in the US has also been growing, outperforming other competitive packaging types and metals based on several sustainability metrics, according to a report from the Aluminium Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) in early September. The report – “The Aluminium Can Advantage: Key Sustainability Performance Indicators 2019” revealed that aluminium cans were recycled nearly double the rate of glass or plastic bottles. While the consumer recycling rates of plastic bottle came in at 29.2 per cent and glass bottle at 26.4 per cent, the recycling rates of aluminium cans stood at 49.8 per cent in 2018 from 45.1 per cent in 2017. The average recycled content for an aluminium can produced also rose from 70 per cent to 73 per cent in the United States, compared to 23 percent for glass and 3 percent for plastic.
According to the Aluminium Association, Americans throw away more than $700 million worth of aluminum cans every year, while the aluminum industry spends more than $800 million dollars a year on recycled cans.
In March 2019, Nespresso, in collaboration with New York City’s curbside recycling programme, made a US$1.2 million commitment to enable better recovery of its aluminium coffee capsules. The Lexington Recycle Centre, on the other hand, resumed operations and once again started processing recyclable materials, city officials reported in June.
The United Arab Emirates is neither lagged behind in taking initiatives to boost the aluminium cans recycle. Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) reportedly reunited the nation once again for its 23rd Cycle of the Can Collection Day. More than 200 entities, including various hotels, families, academic institutions, and corporations from Emirates participated in the event and reeled in 4050 kg of aluminium cans for recycling on February 28, 2019. EEG achieved 20 per cent of the target and therefore urged all sectors to achieve the set target of 20,000 kg till December.
In China, however, used aluminium cans are reportedly piling up in scrapyards as the market for aluminium recyclables shrinks in size and profitability, according to a report in March 2019. Aluminium rollers are cutting recycled aluminium from cans out of their business models to prioritize more profitable areas of business, while car and airplane manufacturers are staying away from using aluminium made from recycled cans. The United States additional tariffs of 10 per cent on Chinese aluminium exports in 2018 could be attributed to this. As a result of the tariff on exports, used aluminium cans in China are being increasingly dumped in the domestic market. But China’s strict new standards on the quality of the products are impeding the use of recycled aluminium cans, on the other hand.
Now let us see what impact the latest aluminium tariff of the United States has created on the aluminium cans market.
Latest aluminium tariff and its effect on cans
In August, the US President declared that it would increase the tariffs from 10% to 15% on $300 billion of imported Chinese goods and from 20% to 30% on US$250 billion goods, with effect from October 1. The domestic breweries saw the adverse effect of the latest phase of tariff escalation by the United States. The Beer Institute pointed out, Trump’s tariffs amount to a $347 million annual tax on the beer industry. Should the new tariffs take effect, the number will rise. Miller Coors already reported an added cost of US$40 million, as a result of the decision, while some regional craft breweries, such as Minnesota’s Summit Brewing reported US$160,000 extra costs.
American aluminium cans are increasingly dependent on imported aluminium, mainly because local strip factories in the United States prefer to produce high value-added automotive plates. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the US imported cans increased by 200% between 2013 and 2018, and 70% of the imported cans in 2018 came from China.
In September, The Argentine Ministry of Production and Labour said that it would impose anti-dumping duties on aluminium sheets from China for six months. According to the preliminary ruling, the temporary anti-dumping duty targets products under Mercosur HS code of 7606.91.0 and 7606.92.00, with a rate of 70% of Free on Board (FOB) value in the form of deposit.
The aluminium tariff slapped by the United States on China had increased the latter’s exports to many other parts of the world. India was also at the receiving end, where secondary aluminium imports recorded growth. But now the country is taking initiative to restrict increasing aluminium scrap imports by increasing duties. In that case, China may turn over-capacity with used aluminium cans/ aluminium scrap. Recycle would be the best way to handle this, as all other countries have embarked on boosting aluminium cans recycle to make the nation greener. Also, in China, recycle can take the nation a step ahead towards achieving “blue sky” plan.
We are going to the sun. ESA launched the European observation satellite Solar Orbiter from Florida in the USA. This space probe is going to look at sides of the sun that we have not been able to see well before: the two poles of the sun. Solar Orbiter is an ESA-led mission with strong NASA participation. It will look at never-before-seen regions of the sun, such as the poles. Space weather research is one of its main objects. It hopes to shed more light on the origins of solar wind. This can knock out power grids on the ground and disrupt operations of satellites orbiting the Earth. ESA’s new sun exploring spacecraft Solar Orbiter launched atop the US Atlas V 411 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 10 February 2020. The prime contractor is Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK. Solar Orbiter is the first ‘medium’-class mission implemented in the Cosmic Vision 2015-25 programme, the current planning cycle for ESA’s space science missions.
Facing the sun
What happens on the sun actually has consequences for our earth. And then it’s not just about the temperature. The sun and the north and south pole of the star have strong magnetic fields. And they sometimes change, resulting in a lot of solar wind. The Solar Orbiter will investigate that process. Solar Orbiter must give us more insight into how our parent star works. Also, It will investigate how intense radiation and energetic particles impact our home planet. The goal is to better understand and predict periods of ‘space weather’. Solar storms have the potential to knock out power grids, disrupt air traffic and telecommunications. Furthermore, they endanger space-walking astronauts. Notorious is a major power outage in Canada in 1989 that was the result of a solar storm. In short, it is good to know more about how solar storms exactly work and how they arrive on earth.
Polar regions of the sun
Solar Orbiter will take just under two years to reach its initial operational orbit, making use of gravity-assist flybys of Earth and Venus to enter a highly elliptical orbit around the Sun. The spacecraft will use the gravity of Venus to slingshot itself out of the ecliptic plane of the solar system, which is home to the planetary orbits, and raise its orbit’s inclination to give us new views of the uncharted polar regions of our parent star. Up until now, the poles have been out of view from earth and to other spacecraft. However, scientists think they are key to understanding the sun’s activity. Over the course of its planned five-year mission, Solar Orbiter will reach an inclination of 17° above and below the solar equator. The proposed extended mission would see it reach up to 33° inclination.
Solar Orbiter will use a combination of ten in situ and remote-sensing instruments to observe the turbulent solar surface, the Sun’s hot outer atmosphere and changes in the solar wind. Remote-sensing payloads will perform high-resolution imaging of the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona – as well as the solar disc. In situ instruments will measure the solar wind and the solar magnetic field in the vicinity of the orbiter.
Solar Orbiter Versus Parker Solar Probe
As one of two complementary spacecraft studying the Sun at close proximity, it joins NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. This is already engaged in its mission. Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe function in their own respective orbits to accomplish their different, if complementary, goals. Parker Solar Probe ‘touches’ our star at much closer distances than Solar Orbiter. It is there to study how the solar wind originates. But, it does not have cameras to view the Sun directly. Solar Orbiter flies at a distance to achieve a comprehensive perspective of the sun, including both remote images and in situ measurements, and will view the Sun’s polar regions for the first time.
Beyond accomplishing its own science goals, Solar Orbiter will provide contextual information. This should improve the understanding of Parker Solar Probe’s measurements. By working together in this way, the two spacecraft will collect complementary data sets that will allow more science to be distilled from the two missions than either could manage on its own. Solar Orbiter builds on the legacy of missions such as the joint ESA/NASA Ulysses and Solar and Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO), to give the most advanced look yet at our star, and its influence on Earth.
The Orbiter runs… on solar energy. Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands contributed to the solar panels that will provide the spacecraft with energy in the coming years. Dutch meteorological institute KNMI takes action when the first measurement data from the Solar Orbiter reach our planet. The spacecraft is equipped with “jewel-like” solar panels,” said Rob van Hassel of Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands, responsible for assembling them. “The satellite will orbit the sun on nearly forty million kilometers. That sounds like a great distance, but for solar panels that is really very close. The temperature on the front of the heat shield of the Solar Orbiter can go up to five hundred degrees Celsius. While at the back, in the shade, it is only fifty degrees.”
At its closest, Solar Orbiter will face the sun from within the orbit of Mercury. Or: approximately 42 million kilometres from the solar surface. The design of the solar panels themselves have, to a large extent, been based on panels that are already flying towards Mercury as part of the BepiColombo mission. Several solutions had to be specifically devised to prevent the Solar Orbiter from overheating. Heatshield technology must ensure the spacecraft’s scientific instruments are protected. The images are made behind moveable flaps. The heatshield will endure temperatures of up to 500°C – up to thirteen times the heat experienced by satellites in earth orbit.
Because of the brightness of the light so close to the sun, the panels also provide sufficient power at an angle of 75 to 80 degrees to the sun. As a result, the temperature of the solar cells can be limited to a manageable 170 degrees Celsius. In addition, the hinges and the arm of the panels are all equipped with small glass mirrors and shields and titanium. The mirrors reflect sunlight everywhere, except in the direction of the satellite itself. “If those mirrors are ill-mounted only the slightest bit, those solar panels become like a magnifying glass that easily burns a hole in the satellite,” says Van Hassel.
In addition to the mirrors and shields, Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands also applied a kapton blanket. It has a conductive black layer that protects the back of the solar panels. The blanket prevents electrostatic discharges from disrupting measurements from the satellite instruments or damaging the solar panels themselves. In other words: the Solar Orbiter has its own lightning rod on board. The development of the solar panels is a collaboration between the German Airbus location in Ottobrunn and Airbus Defense and Space Netherlands. Its development took three years. The Dutch part of the development was funded by the contribution that the Dutch government made to ESA’s scientific missions.
Space weather alarm
As we become increasingly dependent on technology – for example, the signal from navigation satellites – the impact of solar wind on our society is increasing. That is why KNMI is developing a ‘space weather alarm for the Netherlands. Van den Oord: “With that new information from Solar Orbiter we are going to improve the models. This is because we want to be able to warn in time of increased solar activity. For example for aviation, emergency services and other vital sectors in our society. If we know that a major solar storm is coming, we can take timely action here on Earth to limit its impact on our society.”
Drone Use In COVID-19 Mitigation and How to Prevent Collisions
With the COVID-19 purge expected to run for months ahead there is an increasing interest in the use of drones for both containment and vital deliveries. However, there is still the need to solve the problem of collisions and accidents in dense urban environments – a topic of immense interest for Smart Cities technologists. In Spain, drones are being used by the police to warn people to stay at home and China has used them for similar purposes, including warning its citizens to wear masks. In addition, the world’s most populous nation, has been using the technology for medical deliveries, spraying disinfectant over large areas with retrofitted agricultural drones and using attached thermal cameras to take people’s temperatures.
Terra Drone’s Antwork has been conducting medical deliveries from Xinchang County’s disease control centre to its People’s Hospital to help reduce exposure to the virus and medical drone deliveries have also been made from the hospital to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. In the USA, in North Carolina, Zipline has been asked by Novant Health to begin such deliveries.
Then literally ‘waiting in the wings’ are also Amazon’s Prime Air and Aquiline Drones. Both companies are rumored to be close to holding Part 135 certifications, which could lead to the expedited rollout of new delivery programmes to help curb the crisis.
Drone delivery has obvious benefits at a time like this, when both expediency and minimal human contact are incredibly important as well as their ability to save time, particularly in dense urban environments. So how can we maximise their benefits at this crucial time?
It’s the regulation, stupid
It still remains that the main barrier is not drone technology per se but the regulation which surrounds their use.
Drones have to be piloted, or at least have human pilot back-up and flown within the line of sight of that pilot. Regulation also limits the use of drones in built up and uncontrolled areas and prevents operation where visibility is degraded (e.g. due to adverse weather). The consequences of non-regulation in the flying of drones can be deadly serious. Drones can and do fall out of the sky, GPS systems aren’t as robust as we’d like to believe and no-one wants one to crash in a densely populated environment. To address these, they will need to be equipped with technology which will mitigate the risk of accidents to an acceptably low rate.
One such technology will be collision avoidance sensing to detect all kinds of obstacles including, but not limited to, power lines, streetlights, trees, children, pets and vehicles. Finding the right sensor technology is important because optical cameras are no good at night or in low visibility whereas infrared can alleviate some of the issues and enable operation at night. However, their resolution is likely to be too poor to spot fine obstacles such as powerlines or wire fences at enough range to plan an avoiding route.
Lidar, a detection technology system which uses pulses of coherent light, has its attractions but can struggle to detect very dark objects or smooth ones at specular angles, including puddles of water or large glass panes. It is also usually adversely affected by rain or snow precipitation, as well as fog and smoke. In addition, its performance usually depends on the amount of ambient light, usually performing better at night than in the day.
Wavelength dimensions count
There is a good alternative which we are exploring at Plextek and that is radar operating in the 60 GHz band. At this frequency, a very compact design of radar can offer detection ranges of many tens of metres and be able to detect and resolve very small targets such as power lines, regardless of the time of day. 60 GHz radar is also generally less affected by adverse weather in comparison to the aforementioned technologies.
The 60 GHz band is beneficial in comparison to other radio frequency bands as it is very wide. This means that radar solutions can offer a resolution down to a few centimetres. This resolution is crucial to be able to detect and resolve weak returns from small objects such as a low walls or even a child, which may come between the drone and an object with a much stronger return like the ground or a wall.
At 60 GHz, the wavelength is only 5 mm, which means that an appreciable return can be achieved from fine objects including powerlines or wire fences, which may be invisible at lower frequencies. Also due to the small wavelength, a radar with very high angular resolution can be realised in a very small and lightweight form, so can be integrated onto a drone of limited payload capacity. Trials of a prototype radar, developed by Plextek, mounted on a drone have shown that there is the genuine ability to detect thin powerlines as well as trees, vehicles and small boxes against a strong ground return at a range of tens of metres – more than enough to aid navigation, route planning and avoidance of obstacles in cluttered environments. Crucially, these detections will also not be affected by the time of day or meaningfully reduced by poor weather.
There are a number of prototype miniature 60 GHz radar systems, which we are already supplying to drone operators to support this safe use in highly cluttered environments or in poor visibility. This enables them to manoeuvre drones very close to dangerous and expensive infrastructure in order to get detailed measurements or deliver goods, even in poor visibility, which otherwise would be almost impossible.
With this unfolding emergency, these developments can’t be realised soon enough.
Autonomous Robots Aid in Patrolling and Disinfecting COVID-19 Hit China
Autonomous robots aided by sensors such as LiDAR and powered by AI are aiding the public safety authorities, health authorities, and businesses in China aiding in the COIVD-19 hit regions. Police use Robots for patrolling and monitoring Robots have come to the aid of Shenzhen police in southeastern China, where they are being used both for patrolling and monitoring the citizens for COVID-19 symptoms – according to a Tweet, shared by Velodyne Lidar, Inc.
CRUZR, a Cloud-Based Intelligent Service Robot from UBTECH Robotics, Inc., along with a patrol car version, can be seen deployed in this video from Shenzhen Satellite TV. These robots are helping the police in China fight COVIDー19 by working at toll gates to monitor mask use, body temps with infrared thermometers, and further allowing police to communicate through a speaker to minimize contact with people.
Driverless sweeping vehicles help to keep the city clean
According to One Shenzhen, during Feb 21, 2020, when work resumed in the Qianhai Free Trade Zone, high-tech driverless sweeping vehicles, were used for street cleaning in the Shekou Wanggu Park of China. The park has nearly 500 well-known companies such as Apple, IBM, Nestle, etc.
These driverless sweeping vehicles are from EVA Robot, which provides the self-driving sidewalk cleaning robot for outdoors and a self-driving square cleaning robot for indoors. Further, a modified version of the Neolix driverless service vehicle was deployed for automatic spraying of disinfectants on the roads.
Disinfectant Robots aid in bringing in a new level of epidemic resistance
Further, according to a blog from EVA Robot, indoor disinfectant and scrubbing robots, outdoor disinfection and cleaning robots, and ultraviolet disinfection robots are used to replace humans in cleaning and disinfection operations.
According to the blog, a high-level expert group of the National Health and Medical Commission revealed that 75% of ethanol disinfection could effectively destroy the live coronavirus. The indoor disinfection and scrubbing robots and outdoor disinfection and cleaning robots use 75% alcohol as the disinfection method. According to the set route, they automatically, efficiently, and accurately spray, disinfect, and clean the space. Among them, the autonomous mobile sterilization method for the environmental surface and the air makes up for the deficiency of the traditional fixed air sterilizer.
Further, the EVA Robot blog said that the Pneumonitis Diagnosis and Treatment Program for New Coronavirus Infection (Trial Fifth Edition) – issued by the National Health and Health Committee, saw the new coronavirus is sensitive to ultraviolet light and heat. EVA has deployed a UV disinfection robot that can complete comprehensive disinfection of 150 square meters in one hour, which is more than ten times more efficient and effective than conventional manual and fixed disinfection.
Note from the author
Most parts of the text in this post is auto-translated from Simplified Chinese into English and further edited. Please refer to the sources quoted for more information. The blog post is aimed at providing information on the innovative use of autonomous robots in the scenarios mentioned. The blog is not an authority on COVID-19 and does not make any claims or endorsements or recommendations.
The vast amount of technological advancement we have witnessed over the last two decades is astounding. The concept of unmanned aviation vehicles, or drones as they are commonly referred to, would have seemed like something out of a science fiction novel to someone just 40 years ago. Yet here we are, with fully functioning drones that serve a wide range of functions. Drones have been used heavily for military and defense applications, GPS and scouting work, photography, and as a hobby, just to name a few. Even Amazon has toyed with the idea of using drones to carry out deliveries. This widespread application has created a large industry, one worth almost 8 billion dollars and expected to grow to 12 million by the end of 2020. This large increase presents a great deal of opportunity for investors who can identify trends in the industry. Here we will look at just that. We will begin with a short description of what unmanned aviation vehicles are, where they are used, and what are the current trends in the UAV industry.
What Are UAVs: As previously stated, UAV stands for unmanned aviation vehicles and most commonly known as drones. Drones come in all sizes, some are so tiny they can nearly fit in one’s pocket whereas others are the size of a small plane. The main feature of a drone is that they can be controlled remotely by a human operator or a piece of software in conjunction with GPS and sensor technology.
Where Are Drones Being Used: Most people became familiar with drones when they emerged on the hobbyist market. People began purchasing drones simply to fly them. Shortly after drones were utilized in civilian photography and video applications.
Drones are also being heavily used in military/defense applications, being used for reconnaissance missions as well as for bombing raids and air support. In fact, the Pentagon just passed 6 billion dollars in funding for drone research and development.
Surveying And Mapping: One of the largest growing areas for drone technology is aerial surveying and mapping. What once required either on foot expeditions or manned aircraft to achieve can now be done with unmanned aerial vehicles. This aspect of drone use has become so popular that it accounts for roughly 37% of the civilian drone market expansion over the last 2 years.
Aerial Infrastructure Inspection: This area has greatly expanded due to the rise of pipeline and pipeline infrastructure. Previously, if a company wanted to inspect the state of specific sections of the pipeline it would require either sending people on land or hiring a manned aircraft, both are which are costly. Drones have allowed for a cost-effective method for inspection. This does not apply solely to pipelines, drones are also being used to inspect agricultural land and railroads. Aerial infrastructure inspection has accounted for 25% of the civilian drone market increase over the last couple of years.
Transport And Warehousing Industry: Uses for drones in the energy sector, primarily for maintaining and supporting pipeline infrastructure, is the largest civilian drone sector but not the fastest growing. That title belongs to the transportation and warehousing industry.
China Will Become World’s Largest UAV Market: As of now the USA is the world’s largest drone market, followed closely by China. This is not expected to last, with the Chinese drone market forecasted to grow to 18.4 billion compared to the expected 11.4 billion for the USA in 2024.
Military Largest Drone Application: It might be surprising to some people, but 75% of all UAV market revenue in 2019 was through military contracts. This means that defense spending in the USA is the driving force behind drone sales. The US recently approved 6 billion dollars to be spent solely on UAV technology.
India Is The Largest Emerging Drone Market: India did not legalize drones until 2018, years after most other large nations. This means that one of the world’s largest markets has just been exposed to drone technology. Already the fastest-growing drone market, India is expected to become the world’s third-largest UAV technology market by 2024.
Drone Sales Expected To Triple From 2019 To 2024: Based on unit sales numbers it is believed that sales of Drones and other UAV technologies will triple by just 2024.
Additive manufacturing (AM) might be nearly four decades old (yes, really), but real-world applications have only taken off in the last decade or so. If you’re exploring this game-changing technology, read this quick primer on what it is and why it matters. What Is Additive Manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing simply describes a method of building objects layer by layer. You design a 3D model, generally in a CAD program, and send the data to a machine (sometimes called a 3D printer) that then creates a physical object. (Check out this post for a more in-depth definition of additive manufacturing.)
It can use a range of materials and techniques. For example, it can involve simple extrusion (imagine plastic layers applied like glue from a hot gun), material jetting (like an inkjet printer), or fine powders melted with lasers.
In fact, AM is so flexible, you can find it used today for both nanotechnology as well as for building houses. Here’s why everybody is so excited about it:
Additive Manufacturing Is Rewriting the Rules for Production
One of the striking advantages of additive manufacturing is that it’s self-contained. That is, it not only prints your object, it can also create the scaffolding to support the object during production. When the job is completed, post production might be as simple as snapping off the excess supports or blowing off loose powder.
Compare that to traditional manufacturing which may require weeks of setup, mold design, and tooling before the first part rolls off the production line.
For this very reason, additive manufacturing has proved popular with inventors and engineers, especially during prototyping. Once you have a design, you can create the physical part within hours. Even if you don’t have your own machinery, you can send a 3D CAD model to an agency and, within a day or two, have a physical part shipped back to you.
Additive Manufacturing Removes Limits on Design
Another shining characteristic of additive manufacturing is its ability to create parts that might not be possible with traditional manufacturing methods.
For example, a lattice structure can help you create an object that is lighter and uses less material than a solid. Traditional production methods like casting and milling aren’t well suited to produce those intricate lattices. Parts may not exit molds cleanly. And milling costs skyrocket when you remove material from multiple directions.
The lattice structures in this design will save material and weight but wouldn’t be economical to produce with traditional manufacturing methods.
Additive manufacturing, on the other hand, doesn’t impose those same limits. There are no molds or concerns about cutting tools reaching into tiny crannies. As such, you need not worry about how the machinery will handle every beam, node, and cell.
AM works well with artificial intelligence, too. For example, generative design is an AI technology that suggests designs based on the requirements you specify. Often unconventional in appearance, AM can easily handle even the most organic AI shapes.
A part designed for additive manufacturing. While generative design can work with traditional manufacturing methods, additive often offers the most design flexibility.
The Available Materials Seem Infinite
Until recently, AM materials tended to use plastic, but that’s quickly changing. “The number of materials that AM can handle is constantly expanding,” say the business analysts at McKinsey. “A wide range of new plastics has been developed, along with processes and machines for printing with ceramics, glass, paper, wood, cement, graphene, and even living cells.” Dozens of metals have become available recently, too.
Meanwhile, researchers at places like MIT and Washington State are innovating new ways to mix materials into a single build, thus creating objects with properties not possible with a single substance. As more and varied materials emerge, additive manufacturing promises to become even more vital to product development in the near future.
Will Additive Manufacturing Scale?
As noted earlier, companies often prefer additive manufacturing for prototyping and low-volume production. Just send the 3D CAD model to a machine, and a few hours later, you hold the physical part in your hand.
Of course, “a few hours later” isn’t acceptable when you have orders for hundreds of thousands of units due in a few weeks. That’s why most companies haven’t seriously considered AM for mass production. However, that’s quickly changing. Vendors are catching up, offering faster and more efficient ways to produce parts every year.
In fact, a few companies are already successfully using AM en masse. Chanel, for example, says it will soon produce a million mascara brushes a month using AM. German automaker BMW now 3D prints essential parts for its i8 roadster. While Adidas produces its Futurecraft 4D sneaker midsole via 3D printing mass production.
Additive Manufacturing Spurs Innovation
Why is additive manufacturing important? It is pushing design engineers to approach problems in new ways. No longer constrained by the old rules for manufacturing and materials, engineers can now explore their own imaginations to find new solutions. That is leading to more competitive designs, more novel use of materials, and better innovation overall.
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