From Prototyping to Manufacturing: The Many Ways 3D Printing Has Changed the World

How 3D printing has changed the world

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In the past decade, 3D printing technology has advanced rapidly, allowing for the production of replacement parts and prototypes in a fraction of the time. 

Its many applications across industries have made it an invaluable tool, enabling small businesses to create custom products and mass manufacturers to use smaller components with greater agility. 

Such advancements have revolutionized how we produce and manufacture goods, making 3D printing an unstoppable force in the modern world

So how exactly did something as revolutionary as 3D printing come into existence and change the course of history so drastically?

3D Printing – From Then Until Now

Touted by some as a revolutionary technology, 3D printing is often seen as the future of manufacturing. This advanced method of producing physical objects with a computer-controlled device has been around since the early 1980s, and it’s only recently that it’s become more accessible to everyday users, thanks primarily to technological advancements.

The 1980s saw the early development of 3D printing as we know it today. What was just a concept back then has become a viable tool in many industries.

Patent applications for the first 3D printers and the creation of the first accurate models occurred in the 1980s. A 3D printer would have cost you more than $300,000 at the time.

The technology behind 3D printing has evolved over the years to include processes that use powder jetting, selective laser sintering, and thermoplastic extrusion. Stratasys, a business that is still among the most well-known in today’s industry, sold one of the first 3D printers that were commercially available in 1992.

The first 3D printer in use by Stratasys employed their FDM trademarked technology (Source: Stratasys via TCT Magazine)

By the 2000s, additive manufacturing had replaced the previous name for 3D printing. It sets it in stark contrast to subtractive manufacturing, which was more prevalent in the past and entailed removing material from a single solid block. 

Modern 3D printing technology is similar to the one created a few decades ago. They continued to use one of three techniques: hot plastic extrusion, powder sintering, or jetting of a binding chemical onto powders, gains, or raw materials. 

The rising availability of 3D printers has significantly boosted their current appeal. There is a vibrant global community of casual 3D printing hobbyists because of affordable 3D printers that cost less than $300. High-end 3D printers have entered industries and for-profit businesses at the opposite end of the pricing range.

So, how does 3D printing work? In simple terms, this technique uses a computer-aided process to create three-dimensional objects from a digital file by layering materials one at a time. The 3D printer is like a standard printer in that it follows the instructions from the digital file to create an object layer by layer. It can be done with both plastic and metal materials, depending on the type of 3D printer used.

The Benefits of Using 3D Printing for Manufacturing and Product Development

Reduced Costs

3D printing can help to reduce production costs by eliminating the need for expensive tooling, labor, and materials. It also enables manufacturers to produce fewer items in higher quantities, saving them on production time and cost.

Faster Production Times

3D printing technology allows manufacturers to produce parts faster, reducing waste and cost. By eliminating the need for tooling and machining processes, 3D printing can help speed up production times.

Increased Design Flexibility

With traditional manufacturing techniques, making changes to a product’s design can be extremely costly and time-consuming. With 3D printing, manufacturers can quickly modify designs without incurring additional costs or delays.

Improved Quality

3D printing offers precise results with less chance of error during manufacturing, resulting in higher quality products with fewer defects.

Enhanced Customization

With 3D printing, manufacturers can easily customize products to meet their customer’s needs by creating virtually any shape or size. It not only allows for more customization options but also helps to differentiate product offerings from competitors.

Sustainable Manufacturing

3D printing uses fewer materials and energy than traditional manufacturing processes, making it a much more sustainable option for production. Additionally, 3D printing can reduce waste by only using the materials needed for a specific product.

Reduced Inventory

With 3D printing, manufacturers no longer need to keep large amounts of inventory on hand since parts are printed quickly. It reduces costs and ensures that products are always available when customers require them.

Easier Prototyping

3D printing allows manufacturers to quickly and easily create prototypes, enabling them to test new designs and ideas without investing in expensive tooling or materials. It makes it easier for companies to experiment and develop innovative products.

Improved Automation

By using 3D printing, manufacturers can easily automate the production process by creating parts that are ready to be assembled. This type of automation has helped to increase production speeds and reduce errors in the manufacturing process.

Increased Efficiency

3D printing allows manufacturers to produce parts quickly and efficiently, saving them time and resources while still producing quality products. With faster production times and reduced waste, manufacturers can focus their resources on other business areas.

Improved Collaboration

By using 3D printing, manufacturers can collaborate more easily with other companies and partners by quickly and efficiently creating parts for them. It makes it easier to work together on projects, leading to improved efficiency and better results.

Greater Scalability

3D printing allows companies to scale up or down as needed, allowing them to quickly and easily adjust their production capacities. It enables them to meet customer demands while reducing costs.

3D Printing Impact Across Industries  

The potential benefits of 3D printing have led many businesses across a wide range of industries to use the technology to improve their products and services. The following industries have done so successfully:

Automotive Industry

Here’s a detailed description of the impacts of 3D printing in the automotive industry:

Lightweight Car Parts With 3D Printing

3D printing technology is being used to create lighter and more efficient car parts, helping to improve fuel economy for cars, a technique prominently made use of by IGESTEK in Spain. For example, 3D-printed aluminum wheels can be up to 40% lighter than traditional cast aluminum designs.

It helps reduce a vehicle’s overall weight, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Additionally, 3D-printed components are typically optimized for strength and stiffness, helping improve performance and safety.

Customizing Car Parts With 3D Printing

3D printing has made it easier than ever before to customize car parts. Automotive companies use 3D printing technology to create custom-fabricated parts without expensive tooling. 

It enables car owners to create unique designs, shapes, and finishes for their vehicles. Additionally, 3D printing allows for complex parts that would be difficult or impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing methods.

3D Printed Spare Engine Parts

3D printing can also be used to produce spare engine parts on demand. It helps reduce the need for expensive inventory and allows automotive companies to respond quickly to a customer’s repair needs. 

For example, 3D-printed spare engine parts can help reduce delivery times by up to 75%, which leads to improved customer satisfaction.

Aerospace Industry

Aircraft manufacturers use 3D printing to produce lighter and more robust components, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing costs.

Aerospace areas where 3D printing is used;

Jigs & Fixtures

Jigs and fixtures are necessary for assembling aircraft components. 3D printing makes it possible to quickly produce hundreds of fixtures, guides, templates, and gauges for each specific aircraft with tight tolerances, saving time and money.

Prototyping

3D printing is used in the design phase of aircraft production to rapidly prototype new parts and test fitment without wasting materials or costly tooling. Additionally, designers can produce prototypes with intricate features and shapes that would be impossible to create using traditional manufacturing methods.

Surrogates

Surrogates are stand-in parts used as placeholders throughout production to simulate the components that ultimately be put in final assemblies. The fundamental purpose of surrogates is training. On the manufacturing floor, substitute parts are frequently used by NASA and several Air Force bases.

This model of a jet engine was 3D printed for educational purposes. Image courtesy of JetX.

Mounting Brackets

With DMSL/SLM, 3D printing is frequently employed to create substantial, low-volume metal brackets that mount intricate life-saving devices to an airplane’s inner wall.

High Detail Visual Prototypes

With Material Jetting and 3D printing, multicolor designs are created with a surface polish similar to injection molding. Before making crucial production decisions, designers may better comprehend the form and fit of a part thanks to these eye-catching models.

Because the surface finish you get with 3D printing is frequently representative of a finished product, this extremely exact way of prototyping is also perfect for aerodynamic testing and analysis.

Healthcare Industry

3D printing has impacted the health industry in the following ways:

Implants and Prosthetics

3D printing has revolutionized the production of complicated implants and prosthetics. The technology can create tailored components to fit a patient’s specific anatomy, reducing the number of surgeries needed for implantation. 

The global volunteer organization e-NABLE has developed over 1,800 prosthetic hands and arms for use by individuals everywhere.

3D-printed Spine Implant 

The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons published a study in 2021 that found 3D printing has “substantially affected bone and cartilage regeneration and has the potential to revolutionize how we treat patients with debilitating musculoskeletal injuries completely.”

Anatomical Models

3D printing has also had a significant impact on the medical education sector. Medical students can now use 3D models of anatomical structures from magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans to better visualize human anatomy and gain insight into different diseases and conditions.

These models provide a better sense of orientation than traditional two-dimensional images, which can aid in diagnosing and treating patients. In 2022, for instance, scientists from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Virginia created a robotic model of the human spine to assist surgeons in anticipating the outcomes of interventions before surgery. 

The method can accurately identify the candidacy of disc implants in five different positions, according to study results on the replica.

Medical Equipment

One of the most widespread applications of 3D printing in medicine is the production of specialized medical tools, including forceps, clamps, hemostats, and retractors. Quickly making exact design changes based on surgeon feedback is a crucial advantage.

Environmental Sustainability 

3D printing is also environmentally sustainable, as it reduces waste and energy consumption. In traditional manufacturing processes, most materials are wasted due to their inability to be reused or recycled. 

3D printing eliminates this issue by using only the necessary material for a product. Additionally, since 3D printers can produce objects on-site, they don’t require the shipment of components from a factory to a medical facility. It reduces the pollution caused by transportation and helps support local economies.

A recent study published in Science Direct found that 3D printing efficiently reduces environmental degradation in medical device manufacturing. The study concluded that 3D printing could reduce the energy and material used in manufacturing medical devices by up to 20%. 

Moreover, 3D printing can be used to produce products without using hazardous chemicals that are often found in traditional manufacturing processes. It helps reduce environmental pollution associated with medical device production.

FAQs on How 3D Printing Has Changed the World

How Did the 3D Printer Impact Society?

The 3D printer has had a tremendous impact on society. It has revolutionized how we create objects, from prototyping and manufacturing parts to creating complex structures. 3D printers are now used in various industries, such as engineering, architecture, medicine, dentistry, and even food production.

How 3D Printing Improves Daily Life?

3D printing has improved daily life in many ways. It has enabled us to create customized, low-cost, and high-quality products quickly and easily. From replacement parts for cars to customized prosthetics or hearing aids, 3D printing is improving lives worldwide every day.

Why Is 3D Printing Important Today?

3D printing is essential today because it allows us to create products faster, better, and cheaper than ever. It fundamentally changes how we design and manufacture products, enabling us to bring ideas to life quickly and easily. 

3D printing has also enabled businesses to reduce costs by eliminating the need for complex machinery, tooling, or molds.

How Has 3D Printing Helped the Economy?

3D printing has helped the economy in many ways. It has lowered production costs, enabled faster product development, and improved accessibility to products. 
By eliminating the need for expensive tooling or molds, 3D printing has allowed businesses to produce much more with less capital expenditure. It has made it easier for small businesses to enter markets that were previously difficult to access.

What Are the Future Applications of 3D Printing?

The future applications of 3D printing are limitless! From creating human organs and tissues for medical purposes to producing food and clothing, 3D printing is poised to revolutionize how we create and manufacture products. 

3D printing also has potential applications in the aerospace and automotive industries and various consumer goods markets.

Conclusion

It’s hard to deny that 3D printing has become a staple in many industries, from engineering and architecture to medicine and dentistry. The technology is increasingly used across all sectors to enable faster product development and low-cost manufacturing.

3D printing is constantly evolving and becoming more accessible, so its potential uses are endless. As we continue to explore what 3D printing can do, it’s exciting to think about how this technology will change the world as we know it.

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