South Africa has world’s biggest Metal Powder Bed 3D Printer

Reflecting its commitment to keeping African supply chain professionals up to date with the latest global trends and technologies, SAPICS, The Professional Body for Supply Chain Management, recently hosted a site visit for members to see and learn about the world’s biggest 3D printer of its kind.

SAPICS-site-visit

This impressive machine – which is capable of printing a full-sized adult man using titanium powder – was developed in South Africa as part of Project Aeroswift, a collaboration between Aerosud Innovation Centre, a South African aeronautical engineering and manufacturing company, and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST). It is the first metal 3D printer of its kind. ‘We were delighted to be able to offer SAPICS members the opportunity to learn more about this disruptive technology that is transforming supply chains,’ says SAPICS president Mungo Park.

‘Imagine a future in which spare parts and many other products will not need to be manufactured in a high-volume production facility, stored in a warehouse or delivered to the end user. They could be printed on demand at the point of use, which would mean a complete change to the set-up of supply chains, and the skills sets of logistics service providers aiming to survive and thrive in this new environment.’

3D printing is already making its mark globally. In his presentation to SAPICS members at the Aeroswift Project site visit, Marius Vermeulen, programme manager at ADC Aeroswift, cited examples like Danish shipping company Maersk, which is using 3D printing to fabricate spare parts on ships. The orthodontics industry has been at the forefront of 3D printing in the past decade, creating both clear aligners and retainers using 3D printing. United States based Invisalign prints around 220 000 customised clear aligners a day.

In South Africa, the current applications for 3D printing are largely in the healthcare, automotive and aerospace industries. Vermeulen revealed that customised implants (including titanium mandibles) have been produced for more than 55 patients. The technology has been used to refurbish turbine blades for Eskom and fabricate parts for AHRLAC, an advanced, high performance reconnaissance light aircraft, he noted.

‘Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is shaping new thinking around manufacturing and supply chains. It will ultimately necessitate redesigned supply chain networks to decentralised, distributed production networks,’ Vermeulen said.