What Can You Do With 3D Printing

As soon as 3D printing was introduced to the world, the benefits were clear to see. The technology allows products to be made on demand while offering personalization and design complexity. It has been used to produce everything from jewelry to automobile parts and tracheal implants.

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing where a 3D object is built by adding layer after layer of a particular material. This differs from the more typical “subtractive” or molding forms of manufacturing.

Rather than allowing you to produce big quantities of standardized products, it aims to allow anyone to produce customized products on demand at the same cost. The final product will generally be more expensive than a mass-produced version, but may bring more value to an individual user.

3D printed robot at a 3D print show
photo credit: Samuel Huron / Flickr

A Revolutionary Technology?

Businesses were relatively quick to pick up 3D printing when it came to creating product prototypes. Prototyping is an expensive part of developing almost any new product, which is why this technology is so perfectly suited to it. It allows companies to develop their ideas faster than ever before.

Through the use of CAD design and additive manufacturing, you can enjoy significant cost savings. It shrinks the development process, in some cases from months to mere days, and is vital for allowing companies to stay ahead of the competition. Many high-tech companies are also using it in order to quickly generate packaging samples or product “mock-ups”.

While the technology was originally used primarily for rapid prototyping, it appears to have now taken a more significant role in manufacturing processes. The benefits of 3D printing are starting to make a significant difference for products that have a need for personalization, cannot be done with conventional technologies, or are produced in relatively low quantities.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to change business models, allowing entrepreneurs to do their own manufacturing. It eliminates the need for warehousing, and so reduces risk and changes the way parts are distributed.

To make the most of this technology, companies will need to ask themselves how their customers would be better served through additive manufacturing. They will need to consider what new features or designs are now possible thanks to this new technology.

Range of Industry Applications

So far, much of the growth experienced by the 3D printing has been driven within the healthcare industry, with orthopedics using it to create custom cranial and jaw implants, and hearing aid companies in the U.S. converting to 100% 3D printing in less than 500 days.

However, other industries have also started to see the benefits it offers. It is expected to be a future core technology of the engineered products industry, which includes aerospace, defense, automotive, tooling, oil & gas, and consumer products/electronics industries.

The aerospace industry uses it to print lightweight, intricate parts such as fuel nozzles. Boeing was one of the early adopters of the technology having made more than 20,000 3D printed parts for both commercial and military planes.

General Electric expects to use the technology to produce as many as 200,000 fuel nozzles for its aviation sector. According to a report published by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (SDM), we can expect all commercial airplanes to have 3D printed parts on it within the next ten years.

3D printing has heavily influenced the automotive industry. In fact, BMW recently celebrated 25 years of using the technology to build cars. It has been used in everything from creating prototypes of new car designs to printing automobile parts to be used in a production model car, customized exhaust systems, and even a replica of a historical race car.

It could also play a role in further advancing the technology for widespread use in manufacturing. Ford is experimenting with a new form of 3D printing that takes a fraction of the time of other printing methods. It is currently too costly to be used on a large scale, but every breakthrough in cost or speed pushes that bar lower.

3D printing for manufacturing

Personal Uses

In some ways, the market for personal 3D printing is enjoying rapid growth. By 2020, a million personal 3D printers are expected to sell per year. Those who own a printer can already download replacement parts for everything from their car dashboard to their camera lens cap.

Of course, we are still at the early stages of development and most consumers will not be able to justify the cost of a 3D printer at this point. To hit the mainstream, printers will need to be both cheap and accessible. Currently, the printer itself is already a substantial investment, with printing materials further inflating prices.

An individual interested in creating designs for goods that can then be sold on may be more likely to use a 3D printing bureau. These services allow them to open an online store from which their goods can be sold, while the bureau is in charge of taking and producing the order, as well as shipping it out.

Looking Ahead

Rather than replacing mass manufacturing, 3D printing has the potential to introduce a brand new category of products. It helps to remove the need for complicated supply chains and unnecessary waste while enabling new technologies that are lightweight and customizable.

In a survey by MHI and Deloitte of 900 supply-chain professionals it was found that while 14% currently use 3D technology, 48% expect to adopt it within the next ten years. While we can no doubt expect the market for 3D printing to grow at a healthy rate, it is important that technology continues to progress, and further developments continue to be made.

There are several reasons to be optimistic, with the cost of 3D printers already coming down. Eight years ago you could expect to pay as much as $20,000 for a small desktop 3D printer, which you can now get for $400.

As the technology becomes faster, easier, and more affordable to use, new uses continue to appear. The industry has managed to move on from prototypes, towards printing final products and has to ability to become one of the most disruptive industries in the future of making things.