We live in a remarkable time. Advancements in technology are accelerating in just about every industry resulting in a significant resurgence in the manufacturing sector. Not all of those advancements are related to 3D printing; however, 3D printing is expected to continue to grow exponentially, impacting nearly every industry, notably those already utilizing 3D design software. I’m sure you are wondering, what are the benefits of 3D printing related to my business? Let’s jump right in.
Briefly, 3D printing is the creation of a physical 3D structure from a CAD or digital model.
More specifically, a 3D printer builds through additive manufacturing in that it lays down layer upon layer of the design until it is complete. Each layer of the design represents a thin slice or cross-section of the final product.
While technically 3D printing has been around for nearly 50 years, the way we recognize it today, with Selective Layer Sintering (SLS), which uses powder polymers to create the layers and then a laser to fuse them.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) does something similar on a smaller scale using a heated thermoplastic into liquid and combining it layer by layer. This process is often referred to as desktop 3D printing.
While 3D printing exists in different forms, its evolution and applications have garnered the attention of nearly every industry imaginable because of its many benefits.
While 3D printing certainly comes with limitations predominantly related to building sizes and post-production cleanup, the benefits seem to outweigh any existing challenges.
Don’t have a ton of space for inventory? 3D printing might be the solution. With 3D printed products, manufacturers can print as needed with designs stored online. Unlike traditional stock, it saves you space and money.
Whether you’re creating something from scratch or editing an existing design, CAD software makes it easy to design and modify. Once that part of the process is done, 3D printing can be completed in hours, a stark contrast to the typical manufacturing process.
3D printing is cheaper and faster at doing most things in the manufacturing process, including prototyping. If you can speed up that part of the process, you can also speed up other parts, including testing and design modifications.
Because 3D printing is an additive design process, it has less waste. In traditional manufacturing, a subtractive method is used where parts are cut from other components like sheet metals or plastics, resulting in significant waste. In contrast, with 3D printing, just the desired object is being created. The added benefit here is the environmental impact of less waste!
Further, the product being created is usually plastic, meaning it’s lightweight but still incredibly durable. Metals are also used in some 3D printing, though they are a bit heavier. However, you can create products using either material to meet environmental exposure needs, such as heat resistance or water repellency.
Due to some limitations to modern manufacturing machines and facilities, designs can be confined by those restrictions. In contrast, 3D printing enables designs to be more flexible to meet aesthetic or functional needs.
Given the faster manufacturing processes, reduced waste, ease of modifications, and testing (within some CAD programs), 3D printing is far more cost-effective than traditional manufacturing. Certainly, the printer can be costly, but you can also outsource that to a 3D printing company.
Given those benefits, it’s easy to see why so many industries are looking to capitalize on 3D printing technology. While manufacturing seems like a logical industry to leverage all those benefits, 3D printing is used in nearly every industry you can imagine.
Perhaps the newest entrant into the 3D printing world is the construction industry. Having long sought ways to decrease construction costs and time, reduce waste, and build more quickly, 3D printing may help address several issues. Given the recent fluctuations and spikes in materials cost, particularly lumber, 3D printing may have an additional in-road moving forward.
Mechanical engineering seems like a logical extension given the extensive use of computer-assisted 3D modeling used in the industry. Given the technology’s ability to create designs that you cannot create via traditional manufacturing methods, 3D printing gets significant use in mechanical engineering, especially within aeronautical and auto parts manufacturing.
Like mechanical engineering, when industries need to save costs on complex designs, the healthcare industry may come to mind. From prosthetics to 3D generated organs for surgical practice and education, the healthcare industry benefits from 3D printing applications.
Similarly, anyone who’s ever waiting on a crown, a bite guard, or a bridge knows that it can be a while before those specially designed items arrive at the dentist for treatment, but 3D printing can speed up that process. Additionally, tools for dental work and examinations can also be printed, saving both time and money for dental professionals.
Again, these are two industries that need highly specific and precise designs that are often very expensive due to those demands. Further, the overall weight is a significant issue, and 3D printed parts are significantly lighter due to the materials, saving even more money in the long run. In fact, a recent Boeing aircraft design included over 300 3D printed parts. Similarly, Space X has long boasted about its use of 3D printed parts in its craft design.
This application may come as a surprise to many, but even before a product is released, there's usually a prototype being designed and developed in 3D modeling software. 3D printing allows a marketing team to print that prototype and start marketing a product even before mass-production begins. That means at tradeshows, expos, and other industry events, a marketing team can show off its latest release before it hits the market.
These certainly aren’t the only industries where 3D printing is gaining traction. In fact, from jewelry to sports gear, to even end-of-life industries, 3D printing is helping manufacturers deliver the same quality in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Any industry that customizes fit has precise engineering needs, or is looking to create innovative products and designs that cannot be produced in traditional manufacturing settings may want to explore the potential of 3D printing solutions.
If you’re ready to talk about how TPM can help your business reap the benefits of 3D printing for production, get in touch with our team today. We’re ready to help with a variety of solutions that leverage the latest 3D printing technology.