3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. It’s an exponential technology that allows you to rush from idea to finished product. Although the first 3D printing technologies were introduced in the early 1980s for motor vehicle factories, they have been a common feature in science fiction since the 1960s.
Additive manufacturing is considered the intersection of engineering and science fiction. It’s seen as the force that will propel manufacturing to new heights. Why? Because additive manufacturing allows you to print physical objects from three-dimensional digital models developed using computer-aided designs (CAD). These digital models are then transferred to a 3D printing machine to create virtual models. The virtual models are then materialized using a layering process to produce solid three-dimensional items. You can create objects that take on different shapes, sizes, colors, and rigidity.
Online 3D printing is causing rapid change in many industries as companies adopt it to produce different products like aluminum parts, functional cars, carbon fiber tools, dental models, human body parts, and even food. For instance, additive manufacturing was used to mitigate some of the unprecedented challenges experienced during the covid-19 pandemic. 3D printing helped to assemble patient ventilators and personal protective equipment for frontline health workers.
Furthermore, 3D printing is becoming a viable option for many small and medium-sized businesses for the following various reasons:
- It reduces production time. The unique ability for rapid and precise prototyping enables the production of essential products and components.
- It lowers direct production costs associated with inventory. 3D printing technologies work by layering materials. Furthermore, it only uses materials on a need basis and almost eliminates material wastage.
- They enable the creation of complex geometrical shapes and sizes without using tools. This presents the unique potential to innovate in various manufacturing areas. For instance, NASA currently 3D prints crucial rocket parts for its space exploration missions.
- It provides companies with opportunities to improve and personalize their products to a great extent. For example, Nike developed Flyknit 360, a 3D sneaker meant to improve an athlete’s performance and eliminate in-shoe movement by wrapping the entire foot. 3D printing enabled them to act on athletes’ feedback effectively.
- They can use materials like metal, plastics, composites, nylon, rubber, concrete, and many others to produce goods. For instance, with 3D printing, hotels can add vegetarian meat to their menu.
Let’s now look at ways to apply 3D printing to your business.
In the construction industry, additive manufacturing allows for faster and more precise construction of customized projects while reducing material wastage and labor costs. It can also help fast-track sustainability efforts by eliminating material losses during handling and transportation, especially over long distances. In addition, 3D printing of concrete and other construction materials on-site helps to improve your supply chain’s sustainability ratings.
Moreover, additive manufacturing can shorten architectural design processes because you can provide clients with visual models of their finished buildings. It gives them an early opportunity to make and verify any changes to the design. Doing so reduces any wasteful changes during or after the construction process.
These crewless aerial vehicles fly in a controlled way, with nobody on board. However, they’re usually manned by artificial intelligence or remote human beings. Drones are used in various scenarios, including firefighting in high-rise buildings, aerial spraying of pesticides over large tracts of land, aerial security surveillance and monitoring, space exploration, and underwater photography, among others.
Additive manufacturing allows you to produce your drones by creating all necessary parts, except for electrical components that you can outsource. You can 3D print most of your drone’s parts, such as propellers, landing gear, and others.
Robotics is the intersection of science and engineering that uses computer technology to design, construct, and operationalize mechanical products called robots. Robots are developed to substitute and replicate human action. By mimicking human actions, they make human life more manageable. You can use robots in essential services like firefighting, assistance with intricate surgeries, law enforcement, and even home cleaning.
3D printing can produce all the mechanical parts that enable robots to perform their actions, including the electrical components that power them.
- Industrial Manufacturing
Exponential technologies such as additive manufacturing drive rapid innovation and business growth by changing how goods are designed and produced. For instance, 3D printing enables extensive customization of goods without needing tools. Additive manufacturing is instrumental in sectors requiring highly complex parts, such as health, security, and defense systems, but in low volumes.
3D printing uses material layering to produce 3-dimensional objects. Layering means the object is built one layer at a time, with each new layer being allowed to bond with previous layers. Layering allows you to alter a product’s flexibility to suit a specific need. In addition, layering of materials on a need-basis eliminates waste and can lower production costs.
Due to their high production speeds, exponential technologies like 3D printing can lower production and lead time costs. Besides, 3D printing can increase the overall aesthetics of finished products by producing extremely smooth surface finishes with lightweight components.
3D printing can transform the electronic industry by enabling the creation of 3-dimensional coils and spirals. The ability to adjust material usage presents a new way of manufacturing electrical coils and more flexible electronic parts. With additive manufacturing, it’s possible to create customized keyboards, electronic exposures, thermometers, and USB stick cases
- Medical Field
3D printing can be applied in the healthcare industry in the following ways:
- To produce custom-made prosthetics that can replace lost limbs due to injury or disease. High production speeds can help reduce anxiety and waiting time for needy patients.
- Production of cartilage for bone and joint reconstruction
- Manufacture of artificial human body parts and tissue for use in replacement surgeries.
- In-house training of surgeons. 3D printing can be used to print replicas of various body parts for students’ practice before venturing into complicated procedures like kidney, brain, and spinal surgeries.
- To produce fitting dental models for various dental restoration procedures.
- Jewelry, Fashion and Design
Additive manufacturing also presents an innovative path for creative artists and fashion designers. 3D printing can enable eco-friendly fashion as more materials get recycled. With online 3D printing, you can quickly produce fabric and wearable clothing for memorable, one-off occasions, like a Grammy awards event. Additive manufacturing can also create bespoke jewelry because it allows metals, plastics, and other materials to be shaped into unique designs that are nearly impossible to achieve by human hands. It’s also possible to design unique fashion accessories like lightweight eyeglasses and scarves, customized in style and color.
When your classrooms are fun and engaging, learning gets enhanced. Education is also most effective when it’s experiential. 3D printing can help create visual objects that simplify complex and abstract information. Visual learning makes it easy for learners at different stages to understand. Additive manufacturing can infuse life into almost any subject, allowing educators to provide students with a hands-on approach to learning.
The food industry is another area being revolutionized by 3D printing. For instance, the food challenges faced by astronauts during lengthy space exploration flights can become history with food printing. In hospitals, 3D printing can also produce highly customized food for patients’ biological needs. Additionally, in the hospitality sector, restaurants will soon be able to 3D print various dishes to suit their guests.
- Social Action
3D printing can help to alleviate poverty and tackle some everyday challenges experienced by people living in impoverished conditions. For instance, through proprietary 3D printing robotics, it’s possible to build low-cost dignified homes for the poor. Low-cost houses can contribute to the elimination of urban slums in developing nations. Moreover, additive manufacturing can also enable the provision of safe drinking water through the manufacturing of customized water containers that filter and remove impurities.
3D printing is a gamechanger in manufacturing. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for all industries. For instance, most large-scale manufacturers are better off sticking to traditional manufacturing because it might be cheaper. 3D printing is more beneficial to small and medium size companies that order low product volumes and need cost efficiency.
Is 3D printing a trend? The future of 3D printing is almost guaranteed. You can expect to see more 3D printing as it becomes more established in the production of bespoke goods. In addition, due to the potential applications to almost any industry, additive manufacturing, and other exponential technologies will continue to attract significant investments from research institutes and other organizations.
Remember that additive manufacturing is bound to have a positive impact on the future of many companies. It’s never late to start. There are many highly professional 3D printing service providers you can reach out to as you consider realigning your business strategy with exponential technologies.