The World is On-Demand. Now Manufacturing Can Be Too.

Planes, cars, even spaceships—big changes are coming to how parts are manufactured for the machines that carry us around the globe.

Drawing upon decades of experience in printing and materials science, Xerox is incubating new 3D printing technologies and will begin introducing them to the market in 2020. “We’ve been testing our 3D technology with the Department of Defense and NASA to design some of the most complex parts in the world,” said Xerox Chief Technology Officer, Naresh Shanker. “3D printing is going to transform manufacturing, and Xerox is going to drive that change.”

3D printing has been around for years, used for rapid prototyping, modeling, and in education. What’s changed? “The costs have plummeted; the capabilities of the hardware and software are advancing exponentially; and innovations in materials science now enable manufacturers to print end-use components at scale with the quality standards they demand,” Forrester Vice President, Emerging Technology Research, Carlton Doty, writes in his October 2018 research report, Emerging Technology Spotlight: Additive Manufacturing.

Xerox aims to disrupt traditional manufacturing through its 3D liquid metal technology combined with AI-based design software. “By pairing these two technologies, manufacturers will be able to design and fabricate parts that meet their structural and cost requirements on the first try,” said Shanker.

Xerox 3D printer

Xerox’s 3D liquid metal prototype debuted this week at the Formnext conference in Frankfurt, Germany.

To meet business needs for on-demand products, Xerox 3D printing technology uses liquid metal printing to decrease production time from days to hours. And Xerox 3D metal printers use off-the-shelf alloys—the same alloys used in traditional manufacturing, allowing manufacturers to design parts using materials they already know. This means parts are denser, faster to make and less expensive than those made with metal powders.

Thanks to on-demand printing, companies will no longer have to buy parts on a decades-long timeline. For example, if you order an airplane that lasts for 30 years, you also need to purchase hundreds, if not thousands, of spare parts. “You would have to pay to store these spare parts,” says Dr. Bryony Core, Senior Technology Analyst at IDTechEx. “This leads to a waste of time, money, and effort.” On-demand 3D printing can significantly reduce inventory and storage costs.

Xerox’s AI-based 3D software integrates all steps of fabrication from design to manufacturing planning and performance analysis, allowing for consistent part quality and customization.

Liquid metal double cone

An item printed by Xerox using liquid metal technology.

“Using 3D printing to make unusual geometric parts out of lightweight materials, like high performance polymers, or composite materials, means you can offer an improved product,” says Core. In the auto industry, for instance, the technology can allow carmakers to replace traditional parts with lighter-weight versions and shave weight off vehicles. That can substantially lower fuel costs and carbon emissions over the lifetime of a car.

“We are about to enter the most disruptive era in manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution, thanks to additive manufacturing,” writes Doty.