3D printing has been around for decades but it didn’t really gain traction until the 1990s. Until recently, only a handful of industries used additive manufacturing but that’s all about to change.
3D printing is currently one of the hottest and interesting advancements in technology and has the potential to revolutionise all sorts of industries from automotive and aerospace to electronics and healthcare.
One of the key advantages of 3D printing is that it makes it possible to create a product from scratch in just a few hours.
Designers and developers simply create their product onscreen and the 3D printer will produce an accurate, physical part. It saves time, minimises costs and has dramatically increased the flexibility of design processes in all industries.
3D printing is not a new concept to the automotive industry. Car manufacturers have long been using additive manufacturing to print out prototypes for manufacture; however more recently companies have started to actually print the physical parts too.
Back in 2012, Grainger & Worrall a specialist automotive parts manufacturer invested half a million pounds in 3D printing technology. This was in anticipation of orders of small quantities of vehicles parts for luxury car brands such as Aston Martin, Bugatti and McLaren. Using 3D printing allows automotive manufacturers to bypass very long lead manufacturing processes (such as tooling) and achieve direct manufacture.
Although smaller auto companies are currently using the technology to create parts and concept cars, it is believed that 3D printing has the potential to improve the efficiency of making replacement parts for any car by any company.
Additive manufacturing is also enabling massive transformations in efficiency in production processes within the aerospace sector. Aircraft manufacturers see the potential of additive manufacturing and have invested billions of pounds into the technology and development of metal powders used to make everything from turbine blades and structural parts to jet engine parts such as combustion nozzles.
Whereas in the past many aircraft parts needed many individual components, thanks to 3D printing they can now be printed in one. This was illustrated by GE, which recently printed a fuel injection nozzle in one piece that was previously comprised of twenty different components. Not only did they simplify the manufacturing process by using 3D printing but they also managed to make the fuel injection nozzle five times stronger.
3D printing electronics and semiconductors
Another industry that is at the forefront of additive manufacturing is the electronics industry. The size, shape and materials used to make electronics products make this industry a natural candidate from 3D printing. By creating electronics products with 3D printing, companies are able to save a significant amount of time, money and waste during the manufacturing process.
Whilst 3D printing is currently being used to make a handful of electronics such as antennas and batteries, the process of creating semiconductors has been a little trickier. However a team of researchers at Princeton has recently found a solution for 3D printing semiconductors, which involve using printable electrodes, polymers and semiconductors that are dissolved in solvents.
Revolutionising health care
Of course it’s not just the automotive, electronic and aerospace industries that are benefiting from 3D printing. Industries you may not have even thought about associating with additive manufacturing like the health care sector have also found the technology to be particularly beneficial.
3D printing is currently being used to create medical devices, save theatre time and costs and improve patient care. In this sector, they have had the most success with 3D printing prosthetics and medical devices like hearing aims, which can be made from plastic or pliable materials. The key benefit of 3D printing these devices is that it makes every item completely customisable, allowing patients to benefit from a perfect fit.
With so many benefits it is no wonder that so many industries are incorporating 3D printing into their manufacturing processes.
The technology has the potential to revolutionise so many industries and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for it. If you want to learn more about additive manufacturing and 3D printing; head on over to www.spilasers.com.