3D printing technology is shaping up to be the next big thing; akin to the mass development and utilization of mp3 files and the rapid decline of the compact disc. Not only is it a very attractive form of so-called additive manufacturing – trade shows and boardroom meetings frequently bank on the visual impressions the machines make when in action, building up a three-dimensional object in real-time and real space.
3D printing has undergone the successful transition from theory to practicality, and is in use in several industries with high-visibility and great demand. In fact, in the healthcare fields, prosthetics has already seen drastic changes because of the ability to manufacture prosthetic limbs more efficiently than ever before. The process is now automated, and the prosthetic devices can be made to fit seamlessly – with better precision than an artist’s hands could make. This isn’t the only industry that has seen ripples; retail and automotive are using 3D printing in many different ways – and the hope is that this trend continues.
The Challenges That Face 3D Printing
The primary impediment – as of mid-2015 – is the inability to scale up to high-volume production. The large machines responsible for the extra-dimensional printing are still a bit high when compared to old-school manufacturing, even though there’s no tooling cost associated with the printers. At the present prices, SMBs tend to balk at the up-front costs – it’s the corporations and large companies that have no problem acquiring the printers. Ultimately, as 3D printing technology becomes more in-demand, these prices will drop and the zero tooling cost will allow it to outperform traditional manufacturing.
Benefits of 3D Printing
Currently, most 3D printing finds its greatest use in auxiliary, or support, positions. Consider, for example, trying to build a complicated automotive machine part; in the past, making a scaled blue-print was fairly costly, and often relegated to computer. With the strong plastics used in this new form of printing, prototyping can be done very quickly and efficiently, and simulate the real thing in terms of reaction to the environment.
Using very durable plastics such as ABS filament means that the all-important fixtures used to hold parts and tools in factories can be whipped up in short order. Often, these fixtures need to be very precise, which is precisely where 3D printing excels. They eliminate the trial-and-error feature of an artisan’s hand-made jig. Furthermore, the premier plastic used, ABS filament, doesn’t drip because of its naturally high glass transition zone, so the parts made using it can withstand summer car temperatures. ABS plastic bends long before it snaps too, further extending the range of possible uses. (Source: http://gizmodorks.com/blog/all-about-abs-filament)
As mentioned earlier, printing excels at making customized prosthetics. In fact, anywhere customization is needed, a 3D printer is a good bet to be able to solve the problem better than alternative methods. Areas where non-standard parts are of great utility benefit tremendously from the precision and fast rendering times of 3D printing using ABS plastic. Such precision engineering cannot be at the mercy of materials that drip or fail under moderate heat. These abilities extend to production surprises, as well, to ensure a manufacturer doesn’t fall behind because of breakdowns in the machines that make the products. As more uses are discovered, 3D printing is poised to catapult to the forefront of the manufacturing process across all industries.