/ 1 November 2013

Rapid prototyping in SA

This machine is building on CUT’s line-up of 3D printing technologies keeping the CRPM at the forefront of technological innovation.
This machine is building on CUT’s line-up of 3D printing technologies keeping the CRPM at the forefront of technological innovation. (supplied)

Thanks to organisations such as the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (Rapdasa) and the Centre for Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing (CRPM), South Africa is emerging as a world leader in Additive Manufacturing (AM).

The industry has seen extraordinary growth over the past few years and Wohlers Associates have estimated that the sale of AM products and services will reach the $3.1-billion mark, globally, by the year 2016 and over $2-billion by 2014.

“We expect the AM industry to continue its double-digit growth over the next several years,” says Dr Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates.

“It is revolutionising the way organisations develop products, making it possible to print objects out of almost any material, including titanium, sand, nylon, glass and even chocolate.”

Rapdasa has worked closely with the Central University of Technology (CUT) and the CRPM to deliver the 14th annual Rapdasa conference in the Free State.

Running from October 29 2013 to November 1 2013, this conference will be upholding the theme of how AM has the ability to make a difference.

“The theme — ‘Additive Manufacturing: Improving your world layer by layer’ — was chosen because this technology has such an important impact on all of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not.

“The world is being changed layer by layer because the AM process is a building process and the technology being used to create items is done layer by layer,” says Gerrie Booysen, director at the CRPM.

"More and more products are first developed and tested for form and function using AM. It is changing the lives of many individuals through medical intervention and aerospace and engineering and so much more.”

The attendees and speakers will be coming together to discuss future trends in AM across the globe and to celebrate achievements within this field over the past year.

None of it would be possible without the hard work and focus of organisations, such as Rapdasa and CUT, who have committed themselves to promoting and developing this technology at every turn and opportunity.

Changing the world
Rapdasa is one of the founding associations in the Global Association of Rapid Prototyping Associations (Garpa) and the executive committee is run on a voluntary basis and consists of people from academic institutions and industry who have a shared goal — to spread the word that AM will change the world.

The mission of Rapdasa is to introduce the South African industry and public to the advantages of this technology through conferences and events such as this, the 14th annual Rapdasa conference.

These events are held in a different city each year so that a wide spectrum of interested people and experts are able to attend.

“For CUT and the CRPM, being the hosts for this year’s event is a huge honour and we started preparing everything a year in advance,” says Booysen.

“This is the only conference of its kind to be held on South African soil and it is noted on the AM world calendar.

“The South African industry stands proudly at the forefront of innovation within this arena and this is a fantastic chance for us to build stronger international networks and opportunities.”

AM was first known as Rapid Prototyping (RP) when it started in the late 1990s with the manufacturing of prototypes and has since evolved into a far more complex and vivid industry than people could have originally imagined.

As the materials and technologies improved over the years RP became known as Rapid Manufacturing and was involved in the creation of functional components.

The early 2000s saw the introduction of direct metal sintering (melting), which allowed for the production of implantable products, and this had a direct impact on the quality of people’s lives and society as a whole.

“AM is changing the lives of many individuals through medical interventions,” says Booysen. “A case in point is Ennica Mahkge, a 19 year-old girl who was born without a nose and nasal passages and desperately needed a nose replacement operation.

“Together with CUT and a team of specialists from the University of Pretoria and Mediclinic Kloof, she was given a new lease on life. The CRPM used AM to construct models of her skull so the team of doctors could carry out effective pre-operative planning and simulate the operation.

“There were only 50 documented cases in the world with no protocol for surgeons to draw from and these models played a vital role in helping them to formulate the best possible strategy, with reduced operating times to boot.”

Alternative solutions
AM is also used to bio-engineer organs and engineer tissues and now 3D printing is moving into homes, giving everyday people the power to create their own ideas and dreams.

It has opened up the market to create niche products and solutions that are almost impossible to manufacture using conventional techniques and this conference is allowing people to gain a greater understanding of what is possible within the parameters of this technology.

“Low cost 3D printers affect both the professional and consumer markets,” says Wohlers. “The increased sale of these machines over the past few years has taken AM mainstream more than any other single development.

“These 3D printers have helped spread the technology and made it more accessible to students, researchers, DIY enthusiasts, hobbyists, inventors and entrepreneurs.”

The open source RepRap Project, a genesis of Bits from Bytes in the UK in 2008 and MakerBot in 2009, is one such development that has seen impressive growth and success, as is Fab@Home.

DIY enthusiasts and makers have invested thousands of Rands into developing their own machines and now can make their own objects or products, without corporate limitations.

Anyone can enter this exciting world that would ordinarily have been restricted to only those who had access to high-level machines that produce parts at industry standard levels of quality.

AM is not the dream upheld by a few crazy scientists, it is a powerful reality that can solve real problems in society.

Certainly, for those who work at the CRPM and CUT, this is something that motivates and drives them to achieve so much more through the technologies of Additive Manufacturing. Designers and engineers alike are using AM to consider new approaches to product development and to establish new parameters in design.

“The old habits of design for manufacture could soon become a thing of the past as AM can make almost any shape or geometric feature,” says Wohlers.

“As AM systems and materials are used more frequently for manufacturing, we can expect to see new products that previously would have been very difficult or impossible to manufacture.”

A product concept can go from a design to a prototype at — almost — the click of a mouse button and can only take a few short days to complete.

It is an impressive achievement and the Rapdasa conference looks set to bring even more innovation and inspiration to the floor.

Of course, the CRPM has played a vital role in ensuring that the 2013 conference runs smoothly, includes an impressive speaker line-up, many of which are leading experts in the field of AM, and is hosted here in South Africa. The centre itself serves the aerospace, agriculture, architecture, automotive, consumer, defence, medical and mining industries and is passionate about research and innovation development.

“On a daily basis the centre executes a number of orders received from industrial manufacturers for product and prototype development,” says Booysen.

“It ranges from medical prostheses to architectural models and form moulds used for casting aircraft engines to intricate mechanical components. We can deliver these in days as opposed to the conventional manufacturing processes that would generally take weeks to complete.”

Today there is a conference that will ignite the minds of those inspired by AM, tomorrow who knows what these minds will bring to the table and what solutions will come about as a result of this impressive technology. One thing is for sure, it is going to be an exciting ride.

“AM has changed the way designers think, go about problem solving and decision making,” says Booysens, “We want more and more people to climb on board and embrace this new manufacturing technology and improve their worlds, layer by layer.”


This article forms part of a supplement paid for by Central University of Technology. Contents and photographs were supplied and signed off by the institution