Rocket ship designers want to make Abu Dhabi a manufacturing-on-demand hub for aerospace and energy.
3D printing was supposed to change manufacturing.
After 30 years of development, it hasn’t caught on—you didn’t print your last pair of running shoes on a tabletop machine.
3D printing in supply chains is already ubiquitous, but consumer-facing additive printing may remain science fantasy for some longer.
“Most consumer products, sporting goods, automobiles, and aeroplanes have benefited from additive manufacturing at some point in their design and production lifecycle,” according to Wohler’s Report, a 28-year-old industry study magazine.
Boeing employs 3D-printed components in GE commercial jet engines. 3D-printed rotors brake Dodge Challenger Hellcats.
Wohler’s claims that 3D printing lowered the part’s weight by more than half and enhanced its heat resistance, making it better than cast-iron.
Seven researchers in Abu Dhabi are trying to join the table, which has been controlled by the US, Germany, the UK, and China.
The additive manufacturing lab of the Technology Innovation Institute, a government-funded applied research organization, identifies local commercial applications.
They are also discovering mixes of metallic powders to make high-performing metals that are good heat conductors, robust, and less weight for 3D printers.
The propulsions and space research center is adjacent to TII’s additive manufacturing facility.
“They work on the design of rocket engines and rocket parts, then they talk to us,” additive manufacturing lab head Nesma Aboulkhair told The National.
She noted typical rocket engine parts may include three pieces. Ms. Aboulkhair’s team is employing 3D-printing equipment and enhancing their capacity to print different materials to print the part as a single piece.
The team uses German-imported open-source systems with sensors and monitors to improve compound development.
“You can print the whole thing in one go… no fasteners or screws,” she remarked, changing the discussion.
“We push [propulsions and space research centre] to design for performance, not manufacturing.”
Their task is prototyping—creating a model for future production.
The institute’s commercialization arm will collaborate with its research laboratories to find clients in aviation, aerospace, healthcare, and energy to bring their finest functional gadgets to market.
“Let’s suppose BMW launches a new automobile,” she said, “they don’t have to have replacement parts for the next five to 10 years in stock to make sure that they covered the consumers for the foreseeable future. They only require a digitized inventory of replacement parts and on-demand printing.
“That’s the vision we’re going for, we want the factory of the future to be manufacturing-on-demand.”
According to Thierry Rayna, an additive manufacturing professor at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, on-demand manufacturing is competitive because it requires no tools, can be done one at a time, and has set prices.
3D-printed items “will thus cease to be a niche technology” when data collecting and internet-enabled gadgets become increasingly common.
“It will then be possible to print a large number of objects… for which customisation will be fine-tuned and automatic, with real added value,” he said.
UAE manufacturing will become more self-sufficient with this capabilities.
Ms. Aboulkhair noted that UAE manufacturing is new.
She thinks 3D printing will help the country catch up.
“We saw in the Covid-19 lockdown that if you didn’t manufacture your own things, you were just stuck, because the whole world came to a stop,” she said. You couldn’t acquire merchandise or spare parts.
The self-sufficient nation was the manufacturer. That’s when governments realized additive manufacturing can empower and enable.”
The institute’s research lab supports Abu Dhabi’s 10-year industrial strategy, which intends to quadruple the sector’s GDP contribution by 2031 by upgrading infrastructure, lowering operational costs, and enhancing regulations and finance.
“Make it in the Emirates” promotes local and international investors to produce and sell UAE products.
Lack of global standards and expensive start-up costs prevent additive manufacturing from scaling.
Still time-consuming. An institute-printed 13cm rocket engine prototype part takes 24 hours.
Analysts believe the epidemic revived interest in on-demand manufacturing, and governments, particularly the UAE, are accelerating advances.
“It’s a complete paradigm shift,” Ms. Aboulkhair added.