3D printing has already started to change how manufacturing organizations operate, and this exciting technology is set to impact nearly every facet of human existence as these printers become faster and more advanced.
A new technique with incredible potential
Since 1984, manufacturers and engineers have used industrial 3D printers to rapidly prototype new products and create unique parts for specialized devices, according to Engineering.com. The early 3D printers were crude devices by today’s standards, but they still opened the floodgates to streamlined manufacturing processes that cut costs throughout many industries.
A 3D printer creates a three-dimensional object by laying hundreds or thousands of two-dimensional layers of plastic or metal on top of one another. This process can result in highly complex final products, and today’s printers can create everything from small plastic toys to delicate one-of-a-kind structures for medical applications.
The benefits of 3D printing
While the high costs associated with 3D printing initially made it more useful for prototyping single versions of unique items, the technology has rapidly made inroads as a process for manufacturing final products. Traditional manufacturing processes are “subtractive,” because raw materials are cut down into a final product, according to the Economist. 3D printing is additive, because materials are stacked until they result in a final product. This cuts down on waste significantly, and today’s 3D printers accommodate a wider variety of materials and are fast enough to unseat older manufacturing processes in certain circumstances.
Currently 20 percent of 3D printer output results in a final product. The Economist reported some believe 50 percent of the goods produced by 3D printers will be a final product by 2020.
What can be printed?
Nearly any physical object can be created by a 3D printer, and the machines are becoming more capable each year. Today, plastics are the dominant material printed by 3D printers, but metal follows close behind, according to Autodesk. The range of materials 3-D printers can use is consistently expanding, and new substances like graphite and graphene open up new industries to disruption from 3-D printing. That has the potential to revolutionize elements of the semiconductor industry and others.
As 3D printing capabilities grow, the direct impact of this technology on our lives will increase. This could be a valuable cost-saving method for manufacturers and engineering firms in nearly every industry.