Additive manufacturing from prototype to production
The development of additive manufacturing technologies, a.k.a. 3D printing, has rapidly increased these last years. The possibility of creating parts with high-performance materials suitable for (bio)chemical processes opened up new opportunities for equipment and parts, especially in the field of microfluidic and flow chemistry. Until now, 3D printing was mostly used for prototyping applications, but the latest developments of the technology offer the opportunity to consider additive manufacturing for small-scale production equipment.
Additive manufacturing, a.k.a. 3D printing, was initially developed in the 80s; at that time, the only available material was a resin that solely allowed for the production of visual prototypes (1). The technology began to be largely widespread in 2005 when Dr. Adrian Bowyer decided to launch an open-source initiative to create a 3D printer that could basically build itself (2). The technology was accessible to everyone, and it primarily focused on plastic fabrication technologies that were mostly appropriate for prototyping.
The maturity of the technology has drastically increased in the past few years with an explosion of innovative start-ups and industries, which brought to the market new manufacturing technologies that could accommodate an increasing number of available materials (3). The possibility of creating parts with high-performance polymers such as Polyether ether ketone (PEEK), alloys such as stainless steel, Hastelloy, or technical ceramics with large chemical resistance and quality close to traditional manufacturing technologies opened up new opportunities for equipment and parts adapted for chemical and pharmaceutical ...