Video: This Custom Part Illustrates the Promise of Polymer 3D Printing

A low-quantity plastic part used instead of metal components saved weight for a motorcycle. The application illustrates the expanding opportunities for polymer manufacturing.
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In this video, Plural Additive Manufacturing President Ed Israel describes an application of using plastic to replace a metal component on a motorcycle, saving weight. This small success illustrates a big idea: how 3D printing can expand the opportunities for plastics, since 3D printing's freedom from mold tooling means polymer components now can be produced cheaply at small quantities.


Peter Zelinski, Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing is going to expand the opportunities for plastics. Today we associate plastics with high volumes because plastic parts tend to need mold tooling. What happens when we start to grow accustomed to low quanitity plastic parts, produced through 3D printing? I recently talked about this with Ed Israel of Plural Additive Manufacturing. Ed showed me a small example that illustrates some pretty big possibilities.

Ed Israel, Plural Additive Manufacturing

We had a gentleman walk into our factory and say, "Can you help me?" And I went, "Whatcha got?" He's a motorcycle rider, he's a racer. He bought a brand-new motorcycle that had this back-metal section on both sides, so it's for a second rider. He doesn't want a second rider. But he needs a way to put his saddlebags on. He wanted the weight off but he needed a material that would handle the vibration, a potential crash, and so we were able to find a material that was hard enough and strong enough to basically take pounds off of his bike and give him ounces.

Peter Zelinski

I think that example illustrates a couple different things. One, the potential for engineered polymers to replace metal. A lot of cases now we don't use plastic just because you need a mold. But here's a case where a very short run is possible in plastic.

Ed Israel

Well, the fact is, many parts are overbuilt because you only build them one way. Now you can take a material out. It's about really understanding the properties and characteristics of what you need and then finding the material. We work with experimental aircraft companies who are welding fuel filter bowls. They're going, "Can I just print a chemically resistant high-temperature material really inexpensively? And if you can, take weight out of an airplane?"

Peter Zelinski

Another benefit illustrated there. Simple but the chance for customization. The chance for an economical way to give the end user exactly the part he wants even if it's a low quantity and even if it's one.

Ed Israel

Right. We're moving into a world of people who want it the way they want it when they want it. Mass customization, you know. A giant quantity of one or two or three. I don't need to machine this thing. I can make this because I only need one. Right? So, it really gives you that opportunity.