2020 in review: 3-D printing takes center stage during the pandemic

Dec. 7, 2020
Dreaming of blow molding on Mars; thinking outside the box to make two different bottles on the same machine; and a 3-D printer that looks different (but in a good way) are among the most interesting stories this year.

There were plenty of memorable stories and new products in the pages of Plastics Machinery Magazine in 2020. Before moving on to 2021, it is worth remembering a few of the most interesting, as selected by PMM editors and writers.

We are highlighting a few stories each week until the end of the year.

We can print that!

Those who believe in the magic of 3-D printing and its limitless possibilities to make useful things had to be excited to see the emerging technology respond magnificently to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost overnight, plastics processors and manufacturers of 3-D printers were making ventilator parts, face shields, goggles, helmets, filters, testing swabs and more.

It is too early to tell if the pandemic experience will cause more manufacturers to add this technology to their operations, but it certainly demonstrated how quickly it can be used to respond to manufacturing demands.

It will also be interesting to see if more OEMs adopt 3-D printing to bring part production in-house.


Blow molding in a galaxy far, far away

Serac founder and engineer extraordinaire Jean-Jacques Graffin, on the future:

“It is clear that there will be future Serac apps for our customers to follow their machines. Very soon, [I can envision a future in which] I will use it to follow the shipment of my first blow molder traveling to the Red Planet in a starship rocket. My only concern will be that I will not get the information in real time.”


Thinking outside the box

Wilmington Machinery President Russ LaBelle had a head-scratcher. A customer wanted a blow molding system that could produce two bottles with significantly different sizes and shapes at rates up to 600 bottles per minute.

“We considered several approaches, including two totally separate machines that would feed a common trimming system, but that got to be pretty pricey,” LaBelle said. “That’s what gave birth to the dual wheels where you leave the setup in there.”

Wilmington’s solution was a dual rotary machine distinguished by a unique wheel-and-rail system. The system consists of two wheels with a common extruder, die head and trimming components. Mold change time is reduced and it allows one set of molds to be serviced while a second is in operation.

The story is a fascinating look at how Wilmington solved the problem and the advantages it gives the processor.


Who says it has to look like anything else?

A new digital-light processing printer from Sisma USA Inc. looks like … well, I am not sure exactly what it looks like. It could be mistaken for a bubble-gum machine if it did not have such a futuristic look.

Sisma says the printer can be used to create prototypes, customized or low-volume parts, and jigs and fixtures from light-sensitive resins.

It certainly qualifies as part of the latest generation of 3-D printers that look like something other than cabinets.


Previous installments of our look back at 2020:






About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.