3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has had a disruptive effect on the manufacturing industry. With the advancement in printing, or manufacturing materials, that can be used with a 3D printer, a larger array of practical parts can be made. Low labor cost and part customization have made 3D printing a viable option of several industries.
Improvements in 3D Printing Materials
Various uses of parts that are manufactured require a variety of material standards. Some parts need to be flexible, some need to be chemical and UV resistant, and still others need to be made of a certain grade metal. All of these standards can now be met with materials used by 3D printers.
Metal functioning parts can be made from binding metal dust on an industrial 3D printer. For prototypes, single pieces, or small production runs, 3D printing is a prominent manufacturing method. The medical and jewelry industries are taking advantage of this technology.
Carbon and glass infused plastics can make parts with a strength similar to metal, but lighter. These materials also add to the thermal and abrasion resistant properties of plastics.
Concrete has also been used in 3D printing to make parts of a home and entire housing structures.
3D Printing Allows for Customization
People like variety. Traditional methods of manufacturing require the making of new molds or adding processes to provide variety in goods produced. With 3D printing, a change in the design program is all that is needed to produce the variety. Both time and labor cost are saved.
Other than personal preferences, people are unique. Products that are made to fit a person’s anatomy are unique to that person. When making dentures, dentists had to make an impression, which was used to make a mold, which was used to make the new set of dentures for a patient.
Now with a 3D printer and its powerful software, the “imprint” in digital format is uploaded to the printer. The 3D printer will manufacture the new set of dentures in one process. This can even be done in the dentist office if they are so equipped. Single teeth, crowns, and bridges can also be produced using the same process.
3D Printing in the Automotive Industry
The making of prototypes is a prominent part of the automotive designing process. With traditional ways of manufacturing, prototyping can be an expensive and time-consuming process. But with 3D printing, a functional prototype can be made within hours just by uploading the design to the printer.
If a design change needs to be made, the change is made in the digital drawing and re-uploaded to the 3D printer. No need to make a new mold or start over with a block of material on a CNC machine. Labor cost and time involved is greatly reduced.
Some elite automotive companies produce small production runs. Maintaining an inventory of spare parts can be expensive. Industrial 3D printers can make replacement spare parts economically on-demand.
Manufacturing companies are constantly looking at the different ways 3D printing can save them time, labor cost, and produce goods more customized for their customers. With continued advancement in the abilities of 3D printing and the materials that can be used, its impact in manufacturing will continue to grow.