3D printing used to be something that existed only in science fiction. However, with various developments in technology, alongside a healthy DIY attitude among small-scale inventors, manufacturers, and enthusiasts, it’s fast becoming one of the biggest, hottest technologies in play in the manufacturing industry. To illustrate the kind of impact 3D printing has already made, here is a list of the ways 3D printing changed the face of the manufacturing industry forever.
It allows the manufacturing industry a greater amount of control on quality and customization.
One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is that it allows for the quick and easy prototyping of new designs using a single machine. 3D printers are usually equipped with highly precise and accurate motion solutions such as high-precision XY stages, so the resulting parts or prototypes are also more precise and accurate.
Manufacturing such parts in the old-fashioned way often involves both specialized equipment and hours of painstaking craftsmanship and labor, especially if the new component is purpose-built or highly customized, such as in the case of a medical prosthetic arm or leg. This can result in a product that takes a long time to produce due to various revisions. The fact that it takes so long to actually finish inevitably means an inflated price tag – something that puts both the manufacturer and the customer at a disadvantage.
With 3D printing, the tooling of a rough but workable prototype is faster and easier, requiring only a fraction of the time and resources than traditional fabrication. This in turn allows for design flaws to be quickly identified and then resolved in succeeding prototypes, until it results into a viable final draft with all the kinks ironed out. From there, the fabrication of the design can begin much faster and accomplished more cheaply.
The effect of this particular trait of 3D printing is obvious: it expedites fabrication and allows for a greater range of customization.Minor design flawscan also be detected and resolved more efficiently; this helps prevent bigger quality control issues that could result in product recalls. 3D printing also allows for mass-produced parts to be customized further, such as earbuds molded to fit a specific user’s ear canal for maximum comfort and audio sealing.
It removes the design limitations set in place by traditional manufacturing methods.
Traditional manufacturing has always been subtractive in nature, meaning that machinery and tools are used to chip away at a chunk of raw material to form it into the shape of the desired design. Just imagine wood carver or sculptor using a huge piece of timber or marble for his creations. This can be a painstaking and costly method due to the labor and resources involved, as well as the wastage of the raw material being removed. We also need to consider that if the design itself is complicated enough that it’s impossible to carve it out completely from a single piece of raw material, the design would warrant either the usage of different manufacturing techniques or being split up in multiple parts. This further increases the time spent manufacturing the design, the amount of raw material used, and the wastage that follows in the fabrication process.
In contrast, 3D printing is additive, in that it builds up the desired design by adding thin layers of raw material on top of each other, all of them hardening to form a single object . What this means essentially is that the design is being manufactured from the ground up as one single and complete piece, eschewing the need for extra tools, machinery, or design fragmentation. As such, the designer is now free to create as complicated a design as they want, without the limitations set by a subtractive process.
Besides this, 3D printing also helps cut down on manufacturing costs, as only the amount of raw material necessary to “print” the design is used, significantly reducing wastage. The fact that this manufacturing process also involves only one machine drastically brings down the expenditures even more.
It helps make replacement parts more accessible.
One extenuating issue with manufacturing is how replacement parts can be challenging to procure. Not only can sourcing these parts be an expensive affair, but depending on the age and complexity of the equipment involved, it may even be downright impossible.
3D printing can help resolve this problem for both manufacturers and customers worldwide. As 3D printers start to become more commonplace worldwide, more and more machines may be designed to have 3D-printed parts. The schematics of these parts can then either be shared by the manufacturer to their customers free of charge or for a nominal fee, which would in turn allow paying customers to be able to reproduce the parts without having to purchase or order them from anywhere else. Just so long as they have a 3D printer handy, they can quickly resolve any equipment problem that requires replacement parts.
While there will always be a market for spare and replacement parts, the fact that customers will be able to reproduce them on their own means that manufacturers will be free to focus on improving their products. It also ensures that everyone will have access to the replacement parts whenever and wherever they may need them, which can shorten any repair or maintenance job. This alone can help in minimizing equipment downtime and maximizing workflow efficiency.
These are just some of the ways that 3D printing has begun to change the game in the manufacturing industry. Indeed, 3D printing as a technology is still in its relative infancy; to consider that it has already made these wide-spanning changes at such a state means that as it continues to grow and become more globally accepted, it may end up fueling an industrial revolution.