3D Printing offers creative solutions and solid answers

  • Posted: Monday, August 14, 2023, 10:50 am

Pantex’s Tek F. is seen working on the SLM 280 Metal 3D printer
Pantex’s Tek F. is seen working on the SLM 280 Metal 3D printer

In the past few years, additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3-dimensional printing, has shown record growth with more than $18 billion in U.S. sales last year, according to Fortune Business Insights. Major industries, including automotive, construction, health, along with sites within the federal government, are incorporating 3D applications.

AM is unique in the fact it creates a part by adding material onto a surface instead of the more conventional method of subtractive manufacturing, where the process begins with a larger piece of material and the “subtracts” what is not needed to complete the final part.

There are a wide variety of methods and materials on the open market available for 3D printing. The most common process is fused deposition modeling, which heats a single plastic filament and builds the final item up a layer at a time. Digital light processing uses liquid resin that cures using ultraviolet light. Other printing methods include selective laser sintering, which melts a layer of powdered material with a high-powered laser; selective laser melting, which is specifically for metal printing capabilities; and poly jet printing for polymers only. CNS is currently working with vendors to add different on-site printing methods, since off-the-shelf printers do not meet its stringent requirements.

“Additive manufacturing impacts mission success by being able to create parts that would be very difficult to machine with an accelerated timeline,” said Pantex Engineer Wright S.. “For mission deliverables we have the capability to design and produce parts with greater flexibility than traditional manufacturing.”

At Pantex, 3D printing is primarily used to deliver mission-critical parts for the firing site, internally within the high explosives manufacturing group, as well as completing special requests site-wide. But there is a learning curve.

“Most of this difficulty can be attributed to how new to industrial use additive manufacturing is, especially when compared to subtractive manufacturing. Our second hurdle is encouraging a growth mindset. More groups are starting to add small scale 3D printers into their work areas for sample printing. After that, it will be encouraging the workforce to adapt to and utilize 3D printing wherever possible in our mission-critical production environment,” said Wright.