New Opportunities 3D Printing Creates Across Industries

Credit: Giles Kirkland

3D printing is one of the technologies that have quickly gained popularity in various industries all over the world. It uses Computer Aided Design to ‘print’ out real objects in a wide range of materials such as plastics, metals and ceramics. Actually, 3D printing has been around for quite a while. It all started in the early 80s when scientists and engineers invented a new rapid prototyping system and stereolithography. However, only after decades of developing has it become as accessible and easy-to-use as it is today.

Product Design

3D printing opens up a world of possibilities to produce parts and products for different needs that previously could only have lived in our imaginations.

Artists, designers and hobbyists use 3D printers to create uniquely shaped moulds that are otherwise not commonly found. This can greatly ass business value for many specialists from jewellery makers to bakers because it’s not just about moulds. There are 3D printers that can print out your food. For instance, Foodini can produce like candies, pastries and much more using fresh ingredients.

According to a recent survey, 80% of high-tech companies apply 3D printing for prototyping. Product development is the top focus of 3D printing for many enterprises who, additionally, rely on this technology for quality control, new manufacturing strategies, and R&D. 3D printing allows professionals to fully utilise their creativity and make their product stand out. However, 3D printers can only work with limited materials which can be a hinder to the creative process.

Automotive Industry

The automotive industry is at the forefront in using 3D printing. 3 out of 4 major automotive companies in Germany and America have adopted the method. Ford, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and BMW use it as part of the creative process to test out prototypes.

 In 2014, the world was introduced to its first 3D printed car. It was called Strati and got printed in just 44 hours. Nonetheless, the engine and other parts were made separately. This is pretty much the case these days as well - 3D printers were still have not yet been able to completely produce a car without relying on other methods.

 As far as the manufacturing process itself is concerned, selective laser sintering technology is often used at various stages of production. It helps reduce operating costs while increasing the precision in creating intricate car parts, and allows for the usage of high performance materials which last longer. Finally, thanks to 3D printing, old cars can be recycled by using their functional parts to create new vehicles.

 This method can save manufacturers the need to update their entire factories when the car models change. It can lead to cars being completely customisable and modular in design, also saving consumers from the day-to-day repairs and mechanic costs.

Architectural Applications

Models are not everything 3D printing technology can produce. Architects also stand to gain from its possibilities. When they design the sections using CAD, the printer will do the rest of the work accurate to the smallest millimetre.

 A few years back a China-based company Winsun produced a six-story tall apartment building using large printing units. They reported that 3D printed construction used 80% less labour, 60% less material and 70% less time as compared to traditional labour-intensive construction. Other companies around the world such as Apis Cor in USA and the Dutch DUS Architects have also performed similar feats mirroring the benefits of 3D as a cheaper and faster alternative.

 It should be noted that despite being a mostly automated production method, the construction did require manual involvement for assembling and finishing of the buildings.

Medical Miracles

In the medical world, 3D printers are used to create customised prosthetics, dental fixtures, or even a heart, all within within a matter of hours. They can also produce advanced equipment to aid disabled people.

 Global media report a growing number of successful patient-tailored implants such as a titanium pelvis, a lower jaw replacement, a facial reconstruction and much more. Thanks to 3D printing medical specialists can virtually plan out the surgeries beforehand and patients can get the exact replicas of the needed organs.

Looking Ahead

The uses of 3D printing are vast and are constantly expanding beyond our previous expectations. No doubt some call it the next Industrial Revolution. Organisations widely report that 3D printing allows them to innovate faster and the percentage of companies using it in their production process is constantly rising.

 However, there are some obstacles that need to be overcome. The biggest issue is its high cost of the equipment and post-production processing. Also the lack of standardisation of this technology and the limited choice of materials are problematic. At the moment, highly-educated professionals with the right expertise are still difficult to find. But as more and more companies are opting for 3D printing, it’s likely that these issues will be resolved and 3D printing will get closer to becoming widely used.

"Giles Kirkland is a dedicated car expert with a passion for the newest technologies and the smart future solutions. Keen on commenting on the latest automotive innovations, he also enjoys sharing his knowledge and advice on cars and tech. You can find his articles at Oponeo and on Twitter."

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