3D printing is the manufacture of three-dimensional objects using a digital model and a series of techniques which enable the model to be created through the addition of layer upon layer of material to obtain the object in the required size and shape, and with the desired characteristics.
The diversity of materials which can be used in 3D printing is large and increases every year. Today, the most commonly used materials are those derived from plastics, ceramics and metals, although other initiatives are currently being developed for printing using glass, concrete and biological material, amongst others. There are also a large variety of printing techniques depending on the material used and how it can be layered on the surface. Each of these techniques is aimed at achieving different properties in the finished object.
Almost any object can be printed with relative ease using existing techniques and materials appropriately, however complex its shape.
3D printing provides other advantages compared to traditional manufacturing: it can create unique pieces which can be subsequently repaired when required; it creates no waste (all the material is used in the final product); and printing can be carried out as and when required, avoiding both the need to store parts and the need to carry out soldering or assembly operations, something which is highly appropriate in certain settings.
The Digital Hub has staff specialising in 3D printing and own printing equipment and materials to carry out initiatives of this type. Moreover, it works with technological centres specialising in high-specification 3D printing in the most demanding scenarios. Such centres have the capacity not only to design and print, but also to simulate and test the properties of the resulting materials, subjecting the printed objects to the same conditions they would encounter in a real-life setting. This provides guarantees for use of the technology in existing business processes.
Some of the projects and initiatives carried out by the Digital Hub together with the different business units are:
- Repair of railway lines by layering of metallic material on the worn parts. (Amey)
- Printing of plastic models to scale, adding value to tendering processes (Ferrovial Services).
- Design and prototype manufacture of a moving trolley for transporting light materials on railway lines (Ferrovial Agroman)
- Ferrovial Agroman and the Digital Hub are currently working together to explore new applications of 3D printing in construction.
3D printing will allow Ferrovial to design and build unique pieces, manufacture prototypes for new concepts and designs, and repair damaged assets quickly and, in many cases, with a significant reduction in cost when compared to the purchase of new pieces.