As 3D printing has matured over the past decade, so has the technology’s wide range of uses. It’s already being used to create automotive parts, prototypes of consumer products and medical equipment – but that’s just the beginning.
Modern 3D Printing
As a manufacturing method, 3D printing can be used to create customized parts within minutes - and many users continue to take advantage of those capabilities.
Because 3D printing builds up materials layer after layer, it can create parts and products that are difficult to produce with traditional design and manufacturing methods. For example, a prosthetic limb or dental implant can be printed in one whole piece, made to fit the wearer’s unique shape and specifications.
Parts can also be made lighter and stronger than ever before with 3D printing. Growing beyond small-part production and prototyping, the technology can now print actual production-ready parts quickly and accurately. Larger and more advanced printers also make the method appealing for manufacturers requiring sizable, demanding parts.
Here are some of the ways certain industries can change the game with 3D printing.
Scientists are at work on methods to print human hearts and replacement organs. In the future, 3D bioprinting technology is expected to create living organs for transplants. Using images taken from an actual patient, 3D-printed models can mimic a variety of tissue properties within one printed structure.
Because 3D-printed parts are lighter and can be stronger than traditionally manufactured counterparts, 3D printing technology is being used in the aerospace industry and continues to find new applications in this space.
By reducing weight, part count, design constraints and supply-chain risk, additive manufacturing is creating new production efficiencies for the aerospace industry.
For example, Airbus chose Stratasys to produce 3D-printed polymer parts for the A350 XWB aircraft. The aircraft will use non-structural printed parts like brackets for system installation. The project is expected to help Airbus by creating a flexible supply chain, allowing the company to produce a variable quantity of parts on demand. This reduces material consumption and waste and cuts manufacturing and inventory costs.
Airbus can also create, test and analyze new designs previously difficult to develop without 3D printing. With 3D printing, waste and costs associated with manufacturing complex aircraft parts are reduced - without sacrificing strength or performance.
3D printing uses have grown to include the fashion world as well. Dutch designer Iris van Herpen unveiled her line of 3D-printed dresses during Paris Fashion Week in 2013. She worked with industrial designers and scientists who helped print and sculpt the dresses. The integration of 3D printing into fashion design reveals endless possibilities as more designers create quick, one-of-a-kind pieces.
3D printing still stays true to its roots in manufacturing, as many companies print customized parts for manufacturing clients. One of the greatest values comes with components that marry both additive and traditional methods of production. The introduction of engineering-grade metals to 3D printing, along with the existing array of engineering-grade thermoplastics, means manufacturers can build parts for limited production runs and market introductions before moving into higher volumes.