Having cleared the air on what 3D printing is about as well as some of the popular techniques employed in the 3D printing world, it is time we asked the questions: “…who needs 3D printing?” and “…why does one need it even?” Since these two questions are interrelated, we will try much to explore both the two aspects in the different categories we have highlighted below. We will also showcase some of the fields where modern professionals are permanently utilizing the 3D printing ability on a permanent basis.
Then again, because the field of 3D Printing is still somehow new and hot in the market, it could be important for you to check through some of the cases we showcased in our article. Because, who really knows where all these tech-inventions could lead to? “Where there is smoke”, they say “there is fire.” Perhaps there is that oncoming “smoke” of 3D printing that could affect your area of specialization professionally. Don’t you think it’s about time you checked through all that pomp of 3D printing and collect a few trends that could suit you? Well, below is a short summary article on what you might expect to happen in the coming years drawing from the trailblazers of 3D printing industry. We have categorized the major fields where the effect has been much felt and given a few cases that seem relevant in the categories listed. Now, let’s begin with …
1. The Automotive Industry
Now, picture this: you have got a softcopy model of a car design (probably bought from a friend). You feed the model into a special 3D printer, and pressed “Print”. And then you came back to collect a wholly printed car together with its printed car parts after 44 hours. Aha! Hang on a second. The idea does sound ludicrous, doesn’t it? But imagine such occurrences are happening! And they are gaining popularity really fast. I too must admit that at first, the thought of having a printed car sounded insanely wicked, funny but very attainable.
Eight years ago (in 2010), a partnership between Stratasys and Kor Ecologic companies, printed the very first ever known printed car that was called “Urbee”. A series of advancements and researches have been pumped into the field ever since. With time, 3D printing has been embraced highly even in the leading car manufacturing companies like the Volvo, BMW, and Ford, usually to aid in rapid prototyping. Most vehicle manufacturing companies have resorted to 3D printing some of the parts of the vehicles so as to cut on the cost of manufacturing as printing cuts a significant amount of resource wastage and time of manufacturing. Mercedes Benz has also been in the forefront of advocating for 3D printing for truck prototypes and truck parts like the plastic covers, spring caps and air ducts.
3D printing has also had an entry into the aeronautical space. This technology is being used to manufacture pare parts of planes in the recent years as well. The Air Bus A350 XWB for instance is reported to have used 1000 3D printed parts though it is classified as one of the world’s biggest planes.
A simple case study of the adoption of in-house FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) service for BMW’s prototypes showed a 58% saving on the cost of prototyping and a time cut of about 92%. Primarily, this could be the reason why I believe 3D printing is in the automotive industry to stay.
Leading in the queue of all the fields that have been and will rapidly be revolutionized by the entry of 3D printing is the field of architecture and designing. Most designers live by the ancient saying of “seeing is believing.” This is the reason why traditionally they could come up with several well drawn blueprints and blocks of diagrams to show you the “front view”, “rear view”, “side B elevation”…name them. But with the entry of 3D printing, all this needs not to be a problem, one only needs to have a model, print it and then present it to a prospective client(s). If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a good 3D printed model representation will speak one million words. No one needs “front view” or “rear view” anymore; he will just look at the model’s front or rear. Somehow, we all might have interacted with 3D printed structure models before; maybe a model of a house or a modern city plan, among many others.
Just like in the previous case, 3D printing in architecture helps to minimize the amount of time used for developing a model. It also saves on the cost of production as it minimizes wastage and requires less labor to produce. Lastly, since most of these designs are first drafted using a computer, most of them can be stored and used in future or studied to improve designs or correct existing mistakes. This also makes it easy to share designs among different architectures.
3. Medicine & Dentistry Industry
The medicine industry is another key beneficiary of 3D printing. In the past, 3D printing has been used to model/create fitting body parts either for surgical or aids in treatment with an incredible precision. A good example is the Axial3D is a pre-surgery diagnosis platform developed by two Belgium physicians. It analyzes the scans given by a CT or MRI scans and quickly provides a 3D model that can easily be analyzed by surgeons. A different company known as Stratasys on the other hand has specialized in printing body parts through FDM or Polyjet machines. These parts are mainly used for experimentation and some can be used to replace or support parts of the body when the printed material is bio-compatible.
Besides surgery, the same technology has been used in dentistry to model teeth and other curative aids to people with teeth-related issues. Using Object30 OrthoDesk, dentists have been able to curve out printed models of patient skulls and teeth which can be used to analyze the extent of teeth-related problems and help them to make better decisions. This method is rapidly replacing the olden cast methods and could be paving way to a newer generation of dental treatment.
4. Fashion designs & Jewelry
The fashion design and jewelry industry happens to have crushed into the 3D printing part a little late. Most of the notable 3D applications in the industry seem to be made recently (2015s) as the popularity of 3D printing soared. Then again, this industry seems to be taking giant steps in advancing the technology to the extent that soon it may change the olden rules of fashion design game. You see, we all love to look good; that’s why we desire designer apparel. On the other hand, currently most custom-made designs have a tradeoff with higher pricing. With the entry of 3D printing in the game, designers would soon cut the cost of designing, make better and classier designs of both jewelry and apparel. And the game would definitely change.
A good modern example would be the Zante Generate running shoe sole design and creation was printed via Selective Laser Sintering 3D printing technology. The shoe sole was designed to improve aeration and become light enough for athletes. Several other mid-level companies like the ZMoph have emerged with better sales since they adopted 3D printing for their jewelry.
5. Music Industry
And just like that… musicians too realize they might soon be in trouble if they were left out in the 3D printing wave. Several modern music instruments manufacturers have mushroomed that have really put the technology into use. Perhaps a more memorable incident is that of Olaf Diegel‘s 3D printed metallic saxophone that was done back in 2015. It had resulted to a strongly cased saxophone with an intricate precision.
A different case study of the popular musical instrument manufacturer: Fender (Fender Musical Instruments Corporation), has shown that the cost of manufacturing of musical instruments can be cut by half and the time spent in the manufacture be cut by nearly 90%. This is after they had adopted a polyjet technique printer (Eden 350V 3D printer). Shawn Greene, a senior designer of Fender, argued that the printer had added adequate time for designers to research, come up with better designs and test the designs before resorting to industrial production.
6. Consumer industry
The consumer industry has for a very long time used the 3D printing technology to produce prototypes before actual mass production of goods. In recent years however, the trend has shifted to include printing of both the prototypes and the actual products using 3D printing technologies. This has been applied in the manufacture of electronics like drones, toys, apparel (already discussed) and day-to-day appliances.
A good case study could be that of Peltor Company. Peltor is a company that has specialized in producing hearing protectors for over 50 years. It is popular for producing hearing protectors for manufacturing industries. It also manufactures headphones, safety glasses, hard-hats among many other consumer goods. In recent years, the company adopted 3D printing for most of its product prototypes and products. This has enabled them to receive timely feedback and save on the time of manufacturing. Almost similar results have been reported of Logitech and many other modern startup companies that develop electronics.
7. Food industry
Finally, it would be very important to recognize giant steps that have been made in the food production industry as a result of using 3D printing technology. First, it may sound a little skewed if someone opened up and told you that he/she was offering you a dinner of printed chocolate; won’t it? The very thought of printing food could give one the heebie jeebies. But the truth is that NASA has been a key player in the field of producing 3D printers of food. Although the idea may look eerie, it really makes a perfect logic when you go through the few applications that have implemented it. In essence, 3D printers for food use the same technologies explored in the introductory article. The only difference is that they utilize food instead of plastic or metal powder when printing.
It is prospected that 3D food printing could lead to increased nutrition; enhance food safety and safety of food (to those who travel into space). Though this field is prospected to expand greatly and enhance the production of customized food, much of it is still under experimentation. Some of the startups have managed to produce printed meat, desserts, chocolate and various candies. Among the earliest and popular corporate players in the game include the Chocabyte, Foodini, Beehex among others. NASA 3D experimentation of 2014 saw the production of a pizza out of an experimental 3D food design. This could be a sure sign that soon 3D printing could get its way into your popular restaurant sooner than we could all imagine.
So, Who Really Needs 3D Printing?
The question “who?” must remain unanswered. Honestly, there could be no definitive answer that could satisfy this question. That’s why we ventured to show case entire fields and highlight a few case studies where 3D printing has taken its root into the deep. As had been highlighted before, there are nowadays people who are tasked to permanently work on and improve of the 3D technology.
Even more importantly, is the fact that the technology is getting adopted into various fields of both learning and the industry. The technology has enabled us to develop devices and tools that traditionally seemed unimaginable. This is the reason why everyone ought to be on the lookout for the emerging trends of the 3D printing technology so as to see how it could benefit him/her professionally.