There’s been a lot of excitement around 3D printing lately. For those of you who don’t know what it is, 3D Printing can be used to create a 3-dimensional object of almost any shape from a model or electronic data source.
Here is a link to a short video so you can have a better idea of what the process entails.
Engineers and designers have been using 3D printers for more than a decade to make prototypes quickly and cheaply. It makes sense to produce these prototypes before they begin the tooling of a factory to mass produce an item.
These are 3 primary 3D processes:
- Selective Laser Sintering – this process uses a high powered laser to fuse small particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass powder into layers. It can be a great process for producing art since it is the only process that currently uses ceramic or glass.
- Fused Deposition Modeling – this process uses plastic filament or metal wire to produce layers and is the most popular of all the 3D processes. It is perfect for rapid prototyping and is being looked at for future medical tissue engineering.
- Stereolithography – this processes uses photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser to build layers. It is strong and ideal for producing master patterns for injection molding, thermoforming, blow molding or metal casting.
There are many applications that can take advantage of 3D printing:
- Architectural scale models
- Fashion and footwear
- Military – parts and weapons
- Medical and biotech
- Industrial design
- And, even automotive
Here is a picture of KOR EcoLogic’s fully-functional 3D printed car, called an Urbee. The Urbee is powered by ethanol and can go up to 70 mph.
While driving a 3D printed car is definitely a “cool factor”, just consider the medical miracles that will be possible in the future. Organ transplant waiting lists will be a thing of the past, as organs will be able to be 3D printed. Check out this video of Leon McCarthy, who was born without fingers. His dad was able to print a 3D prosthetic for him for less than $10 on a borrowed 3D printer.
3D printing will provide many advantages to manufacturers. Bringing a product to market takes lots of time and money. 3D printing will help manufacturing lower the costs and the risks because it will allow organizations to produce small batches which can be viewed by focus groups who can suggest changes that they would like to see. Only after the product is as good as it can get will the organization need to gear up for mass production. 3D printing will also allow for fully customizable products.
While we can’t predict the future, we can assume that early adopters of 3D printing will bring innovation to their organizations and certainly help define the future of 3D printing.