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Industry guide mulls HVAC 3D printing potential

BSRIA views opportunities for improved testing; cost and limited standards seen as core take-up challenges

Improvements in 3D printing could potentially help revolutionise prototyping of key components used by the HVAC industry in order to streamline the testing process, according to new guidance looking at the possible benefits and challenges from adopting the technology.

The findings form part of a new guide published by industry body BSRIA that considers the key issues and implications for 3D printing going forward and its potential use in heating and cooling systems.

BSRIA notes that over the last 20 years, printers that can produce three-dimensional objects using CAD (computer aided design) have been developed to handle a growing number of uses that is expected to increasingly include prosthetics and even housing.

Chris Thompson, Research Engineer for BSRIA’s Sustainable Construction Group, said the guide was the first time the organisation had really considered how the emerging technology may impact individuals in the building service industry.

Viewed as more of a broad overview than an in depth study, Thompson said the guide highlighted that when considering use of 3D printers, it was necessary for the industry to look at the implications around cost and viability for heating and cooling solutions.

He told H&V News that at present, the technology is most likely to be of use as an alternate means to create small HVAC components. Thompson expects that this scope for manufacturing could well increase, particularly concerning the growing popularity of integrated design.

“3D printing also offers a wider range of shapes and designs to be manufactured which means complex components such as heat exchangers could have even more creative and innovative designs,” he said.

Thompson said one particular challenge for industry adoption would be ensuring the printer devices are affordable to use, especially for high resolution machines – a concern that is common with emerging technologies.

Educating industry on the potential of 3D printing would be another important consideration to ensure staff are aware of how to use the new technology in a safe and effective way, he added.

“There are definite areas where the technology has particular benefits such as in heat exchanger design but there are also areas which it would likely be of little use (especially in components that have to undergo high loads or stresses),” added Thompson. “It definitely isn’t a technology that can be used to replace most modern manufacturing techniques, you can 3D print almost anything but in some cases the component will not be as good (in terms of mechanical properties) or as cost effective as traditional methods.”

BSRIA said that from the perspective of the 3D printing industry, there was also a need to introduce some core standards before manufacturers may look to the technology as a viable method of producing finished materials or components.

“Some challenging areas faced by the 3D printing industry itself, which will also affect the manufacturing of HVAC equipment, includes the fact that 3D printing isn’t standardised and that it is difficult for a manufacturer to guarantee that a component made via these methods will be of consistent quality,” Thompson added.

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