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HRL’s 3D Printed Ceramic could Change Everything

HRL Laboratories demonstrates a breakthrough in 3D printing: ceramics.

 3D printing is slowly, but certainly becoming an evolution or even a revolution of manufacturing. Every week we receive news pitches from companies claiming they’re the next big thing in the world of 3D printing, but there are innovations which are really making you think we’re changing for the better. From 3D printed vertebrae and skin in medicine to airplanes and rockets, 3D printing or ‘additive manufacturing’ is becoming an everyday reality for mission critical tasks.

One company known for its innovation since inception – Hughes Research Laboratories (known today as HRL Laboratories, LLC – a joint-venture of General Motors and Boeing) just announced a technological breakthrough in 3D printing field, targeting transportation applications, from cars to planes and space ships. HLR managed to develop a new way of printing ceramics, enabling not just complex shapes but also – incredible endurance. 3D printed ceramic shapes endured through 1700C, which is the temperature that many of materials will simply melt or deform.

All in all, we believe this technology will be brought to market in two steps – parents General Motors and Boeing could utilize the technology in their future products, but most of the grunt work will probably be pushed through a licensing agreement with MalibuIQ, a specialized investment partnership firm that includes several VC funds and major manufacturers.

We can but wonder how much more efficient can the technology get, as 3D printed titanium blades on Rolls-Royce jet engines are claimed to have reduced fuel burn by 2% alone, and the company claimed 3D printing saved them a 15% fuel burn – mostly due to its 1.5m diameter, 0.5m-thick front bearing housing, which is 3D printed using a mixture of materials (electron beam melting technology). Add ceramic lattices and we might be in for another double-digit reduction in fuel burn and maintenance costs. When it comes to cars, utilizing non-brittle ceramics in conjunction with 3D printed aluminum and carbon fiber could dramatically reduce the weight of a car, but also improve safety.