UAE - Technological innovations like additive manufacturing can be an effective tool to combat the climate change crisis. The emerging technology can ensure aircraft are energy-efficient and cut CO2 emissions by 50 per cent, a top expert said in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Nesma Aboulkhair, lead researcher, additive manufacturing, Advanced Materials Research Center (AMRC) at the Technology Innovation Institute (TII), says that additive manufacturing is a transformative technology that utilises computer-aided-design software (CAD) to create objects by "adding" material, whether that is metal, concrete or plastic.
"Additive manufacturing technologies have advanced significantly in recent years, and are set to become a highly disruptive force across the global manufacturing industry," she told Khaleej Times.
"Additive manufacturing allows us unprecedented freedom to realise incredible levels of light-weighting and functionality to boost industry operations – all while providing a sustainable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes."
Statista reports that the global additive manufacturing market is projected to reach $30.6 billion in 2028 and expand at a rate of 14.4 per cent annually.
Realising the significance of this new technology, Dr Aboulkhair pointed out that many industries are beginning to integrate additive manufacturing into their business operations.
"Aerospace, automotive, and medical are just some industries that additive manufacturing has already impacted. Using additive manufacturing, engineers in the aerospace industry can efficiently design intricate and complex geometric structures with less lead time and eliminate the need for large amounts of material. This ensures aircraft consume less fuel, CO2 emissions are halved, and costs are significantly reduced, leading to reasonably priced airfares for passengers."
Dr Aboulkhair said the automotive industry uses additive manufacturing to produce multiple parts without tools, reducing production and development costs.
"Much like aerospace, the automotive industry also requires its products to endure harsh weather conditions and high speeds. As such, additive manufacturing allows automobile manufacturers to build complex, high-quality parts with improved safety."
"Using rapid prototyping, vehicle quality is enhanced by enabling manufacturers to assess its resistance to water and high temperatures. Furthermore, this technology is used to create lattice structures so that car components can be as aerodynamic and lightweight as possible," said Dr Aboulkhair, who was ranked for a second consecutive year among 'Stanford's top 2 per cent Scientists 2021 for Single year citations'.
In the medical field, additive manufacturing is a "game-changing" technology that has successfully delivered breakthroughs.
"From anatomical models to surgical grade components to durable prosthetics, additive manufacturing has done wonders for the healthcare industry already. In the near future, additive manufacturing will contribute to the field of human tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, enabling the creation of functional tissue constructs that mimic human tissue to restore or replace damaged tissues or organs."
Different from 3D printing
Asked if additive manufacturing is the same as 3D printing, she explained: "While the term additive manufacturing is used interchangeably with 3D printing, the key difference between the two is that 3D printing can be considered a subset of additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, an object is built layer by layer using a 3D printer that leverages CAD software."
"Additive manufacturing is a much broader term, encompassing a variety of processes compared to 3D printing. Electron-beam manufacturing and selective laser melting are also two processes included under the umbrella term 'additive manufacturing.'"
Dr Aboulkhair said that additive manufacturing is commonly associated with commercial and industrial applications, while 3D printing has its place in recreational and consumer applications.
"Additive manufacturing finds use cases in the field of human tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, enabling the creation of functional tissue constructs that mimic human tissue to restore or replace damaged tissues or organs."
Dr Aboulkhair underlined that additive manufacturing is a "powerful and proven" technology that is revolutionising production and business models across the board.
"It has immense potential in drastically reducing the need for resource and energy-intensive manufacturing practices. This, in turn, decreases the necessity for extra material required in the supply chain and paves the way for more energy-efficient, green, and sustainable processes."
Dr Aboulkhair said the technology offers several advantages over traditional production processes.
"Aside from enhanced productivity and the ease of creating new products, it also reduces overproduction possibilities and creates eco-friendly products, to name just some benefits.
Through utilising faster printing speeds and capacity, the probability of overproduction comes down significantly, allowing manufacturers to create greener operations and an extremely efficient manufacturing environment."
Additive manufacturing can help make products that are environmentally friendly by using biodegradable and organic sources.
"It employs polylactic acid or bioplastic – a sustainable, biodegradable, and non-toxic resource that considerably reduces waste."
Ground-breaking role in UAE's growth
In the UAE, additive manufacturing finds use in myriad sectors ranging from aerospace to construction to healthcare and holds the potential to play a "ground-breaking role" in the country's industrial growth, she said.
"In Abu Dhabi, Etihad Engineering, the maintenance, repair, and overhaul arm of Etihad Aviation Group, is deploying 3D printing in partnership with 3D technology providers to launch a state-of-the-art additive manufacturing facility capable of creating and reducing the weight of cabin components."
"In Dubai, the construction sector has already begun implementing 3D printing technologies, and the emirate is home to the largest 3D-printed structure in the world. By 2030, Dubai's vision is to use 3D-printed materials for 25 per cent of all its upcoming construction."
In 2021, TII, the applied research pillar of Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), established the additive manufacturing group, a subset of AMRC.
"At AMRC, our additive manufacturing laboratory is equipped to cater to our future goals, and the pièce de résistance of the centre is the metal 3D printer, designed by the German manufacturer Aconity 3D. Powered by the Aconity MIDI+ system, the printer can generate intricate designs and features layer by layer with only loose powder metallic feedstock material. All our AMRC labs are equipped with an extensive suite for testing and characterisation of manufactured components, including the evaluation of feedstock material properties," said Dr Aboulkhair, who joined TII in April last year.
The TII's additive manufacturing group focuses on metal additive manufacturing research.
"We now have several projects in the pipeline and take pride in continuously improving our research and sharing knowledge with the global research community – working together to build a sustainable future. Just recently, we helped host an international seminar titled: Additive Manufacturing the Future," she added.
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