Today’s manufacturing and assembly industries are increasingly less driven by labour cost and are making heavy use of robotics technology. US manufacturers currently report 59% of all processes are handled by robots and the number will increase in the future1.
Use of sensor data during material manufacturing, fabrication and assembly will pose new physical understanding of the influence of the production control parameters and combined with a digital twin of the production process can enable quality control to be carried out in real time and limit the need for non-destructive testing and physical material testing after final manufacture. One example is real-time monitoring of welding to document and qualify assembly by using computers rather than welding inspectors to carry out post-mortem evaluations.
It’s a necessity that manufacturing processes to become more energy efficient and even carbon neutral both from a cost and societal perspective. Seven per cent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally comes from the iron and steel industry, which remains one of the industries with the highest such emissions. It is estimated that Sweden could reduce its CO2 emissions by 10% through replacing coal with fossil-free electricity and hydrogen for steel production2.Due to improved energy efficiency, lean production and increased recycling, energy demand from the manufacturing sector grows has slowed, and will likely stabilize in 20403. Below are some of the most promising and early stage manufacturing processes.
While additive manufacturing (AM) has developed significantly over the last decade to be worth USD 7bn in 2019, it is still only a small percentage of the USD 12 trn overall manufacturing industry. The global AM marked is expected to reach USD 350 bn by 20357. Aerospace, automotive and medical/dental industries have been the early adopters. Oil & gas and maritime industries have been exploring the potential of AM and have identified some attractive business cases. Active efforts are being made to improve product quality reproducibility and to integrate AM with existing or revised versions of materials standards and qualification routes for these various industries. The development and application of assembly technology such as 4D printing is changing the way we think about material and design, and it is predicted that 4D printing could replace 3D printing. Materials and components can be built to self-assemble and change shape depending on external environments and loading. The technology may also be widely applied for adding ‘smarts’ to consumer goods like the clothing industry with development of materials that can change shape and properties (insulation, rain resistance etc.) with the benefit of manufacturing “one size fit all” concept4.The 4D Printing market is projected to be worth USD 152.782 mn by 2022.
The term “new materials” is often associated with materials possessing significantly different properties compared to more traditional materials. Very often this is achieved by moving from “monolithic” to hybrid or composite materials. Although such materials may offer new possibilities, they also can require new ways of thinking in term of manufacturing and joining. Successful implementation could depend on adaptation using new techniques like 3D or 4D-printing, nano or self-assembly and other novel methods. New responsive materials that can grow, adopt and shape shifting are currently under developing by use of 3D printing and robotic fabrication technologies. These technologies will pave the way for future smart design concepts56.Fabrication by printing
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing is a process of creating products by layering a base product based on a 3D data file. Additive manufacturing is also perfectly positioned to be enhanced by, or enhance, other digital solutions, given it is based on a 3D file. The aerospace, automotive, and medical/dental industries have been early adopters. The oil & gas and maritime industries have been exploring the potential of AM and have identified some attractive business cases. These industries traditionally keep high, and often expensive, inventory levels of spare parts to ensure that down-times for repairs and maintenance are as short as possible. Some leading companies have been exploring the possibilities of strategically located 3D printing to provide spare parts on demand. While such a strategy will reduce inventory costs, it could severely disrupt traditional ship supply and spare part value chains.
4D printing, also known as 4D bioprinting, active origami, or shape-morphing systems, uses the same techniques of 3D printing but includes the dimensions of transformation over time from one shape to another. The printed custom-designed objective can have multifunctional performance within different environments like humidity, temperature, pressure or different chemicals. 4D printing of objects on both micro and macro scale have been carried out, where micro scale design is achieved by complex molecular/fiber simulations that approximate the aggregated material properties of all the materials used in the sample. 4D printing is rapidly emerging as a new paradigm in disciplines such as bioengineering, materials science, chemistry and computer sciences7.Nano-assembly, self-assembly and autonomous assembly
- Nano assembly is a bottom-up assembly or build-up of nanoparticles, molecules or atoms into nano-building blocks that can become nanostructured materials with varying properties. Different nano-assembly techniques exist, including the creation of nanoscopic particles in a gaseous state, and then by condensation causing a nucleation process.
- Self-assembly is defined as a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through only local interaction. Self-assembly takes place when molecules have very different properties on each side where e.g. the polarity effect can take place.
- Autonomous assembly creates an opportunity for new ways of using robotics in the assembly of larger components8. Autonomous assembly may also enable new ways of connecting design, construction and society, and can be an enabler to reduce the negative impact on the planet9.
Manufacturing by bonding is common when e.g. tight joining of two materials is required. Different bonding processes exist from diffusion, wire and adhesive bonding.
Thermoplastic composite pipes (TPC) is e.g. manufactured using fibre reinforced thermoplastic tapes by additive manufacturing using laser or other heat sources to manufacture thermoplastic composite components which is a 100% automated manufacturing process. The use of TCP’s has grown tremendously over the past few years especially for subsea pipelines, with recent high interest from oil majors. Pipes are cheap to manufacture and easy to install. Spoolability, improved weight to strength ratio as compared to conventional metallic pipes and the absence of corrosion, make TCP a potentially disruptive technology in the pipeline industry.What lies ahead?
Additive Manufacturing is now in a maturing stage with high utilization in the aerospace and medical industries, while the oil & gas and maritime industries will have realised their full potential within the next 10 to 15 years. New business models will be developed, and new way of thinking adopted by design engineers in order to make full utilisation of the potential of additive manufacturing. Nano-assembly, self-assembly and autonomous assembly will become more and more important in the years to come but will still be implemented on a limited scale due to early research and development costs. Where cost is a less of a driver, such as in the medical fields or the construction of, high tech components (for use in computing and space technology), these research and development costs will be less of an issue.
How these assembly technologies will come to influence larger load bearing structures like ship and offshore constructions remains open for discussion.
Main author: Agnes Marie Horn
Editor: Mark Irvine
- Boston Consulting Group (2017). How to position your company in the 3D-printing value chain
- DNV GL (2018), Energy Transition Outlook
- Grunewald, S. J. (2015). 3D and 4D printing will allow clothing and consumer products to think for us
- Papadopoulou, A, Laucks J and Tibbits, S. Auxetic materials in design and architecture, Nature Reviews Material Volume 2, number 170
- Papadopoulou, A, Laucks J and Tibbits, S (2017). From Self‐Assembly to Evolutionary Structures
- Momeni F., Hassani S., M., Liu X., Ni., J(2017). A review of 4D printing Materials & Design volume 122, 26 May 2017
- Dawood M., Hanna, S. (2019). BIP-assisted object recognition for the on-site autonomous robotic assembly of discrete structures, Construction Robotics
- Autonomous Assembly, Designing for a New Era of collective construction, S. Tibbits, 04/vol87/2017, John Wiley & Sons: ISBN 978-1119-102359