Message from Prof. Akihiko Chiba of Tohoku University

Message from Prof. Akihiko Chiba of Tohoku University (Technical Advisor)

3D printer (additive manufacturing) technology makes effective use of computers and other digital technologies to enable the one-piece manufacture of mechanical components with complex shapes. It represents a 180-degree shift in thinking from the conventional method of making things by cutting or scraping away at them (i.e. “removal” or “cutting”) to making things by sticking layers together (i.e. “addition” or “additive forming”). As long as we have a 3D digital data model, it becomes possible to form any component without constraints, regardless of the shape of its design.

When this technology was first developed, it was only possible to form objects using polymers. Today, however, the range of available materials has expanded to include ceramics, metals and alloys, and it is now becoming possible to form net shape components regardless of the type of material, both in single material and compound multi-materials (i.e. combinations of two or more different materials).

In addition, with metal additive manufacturing (AM) technology it is also to carry out microstructural control of metals and alloys at the time of formation. This is now enabling us to begin to pursue the possibilities of metal structure control (or “incremental casting”) that was previously only achievable using thermomechanical processing (or “ausforming”) technologies that make use of hot forging and heat treatment techniques. If it becomes possible—with the development of AM-based incremental casting techniques—for us to freely control and manipulate metal microstructures using AM technologies, then the fundamental transformation of conventional manufacturing processes for formed and fabricated materials will no longer be a far-fetched fantasy.

Hopes for innovations using AM technologies are not limited exclusively to manufacturing processes. As mentioned above, it could be said that a great age of competition with regard to the development of new materials has now begun, on the premise of AM technologies. In the near future, AM may also bring innovation in the field of materials technology, with a stream of groundbreaking new materials (multi-materials) that were impossible to manufacture or even inconceivable with conventional materials development processes thanks to AM technologies.

As discussed above, AM technologies are revolutionary new technologies that will bring innovation to the fields of manufacturing and materials development, and could also have a potentially massive impact in terms of the creation of new industry. The global race to develop these technologies has already begun; primarily in the United States, Europe and China. In Japan—with our high-level manufacturing technologies—however, perhaps because there is a strong perception of AM technologies as just one more manufacturing tool, we have fallen behind the efforts of our Western and Chinese counterparts.

With the creation of JAMPT Corporation, we can hope to see striding advances in real-life applications of AM technologies to the manufacture of mechanical components, a boost in the momentum of the development of these technologies, and widespread popularization of manufacturing processes utilizing AM technologies in regular industry. Rather than regarding this as simply the birth of one more private sector company, I have high expectations for JAMPT, and see this as the highly significant creation of an enterprise that will drive and promote widespread popularization of advanced manufacturing for the future.

Akihiko Chiba, Professor
Institute for Materials Research, Tohoku University