Past manufacturing has been subtractive - meaning parts are built by extracting and shaping them from a larger section of material. 3D printers represent additive manufacturing (AM) - the process of building up a piece by layers. A designer creates the part on computer, and it is sent to a 3D printer, which sprays layer by layer of a composite material which is fused to create the desired object. At the present time, this is mostly plastics, ceramics, and powdered metals, but other materials are being developed for use.
This process represents a new way of looking at things for engineers. The limits of design in machining or molding a part collapse as complex 3D objects forming a single unit become possibilities. Engineers can design better components without being limited by manufacturing techniques.
Although these printers are becoming more affordable, many businesses have been unwilling to embrace the technology. This is often due to a lack of faith in the finished product. Some may regard the process as too slow, or materials and equipment too expensive or difficult to acquire. Others may cite a lack of understanding or skills in the workplace. All that is changing.
When the day comes that AM is widely adopted by the auto and space industries, there will be a huge demand for metal, plastics, and artificial fabrics. Not to mention the whole concept of after-market replacement parts.
Use in the medical field could also lower prices in a rapidly growing market. There will be growing demand not just for engineers, but technicians and sales people. Indeed, growth in all sectors of the job market.
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This technical advancement will lead not to a loss of jobs, but to increase relative to booming business. As employers expand operations, it will be incumbent on personnel firms and educators to seek and train a suitable workforce.
Alongside automotive, aerospace is an industry where 3D Printing is believed to replace traditional production processes. Additive manufacturing provides the means of creating complex aircraft elements as a whole, without the need to produce and assemble numerous small components.
This innovation will allow the aerospace industry to manufacture lighter equally durable but considerably cheaper products than those made of metal. In the process of modern airplane production, as a way to reduce the mass of used materials, metal parts are substituted with plastics ones. The use of 3D Printing technology enables the change in airplane construction to make it optimal in use as well as production.
In time, 3D Printing technology, currently used mainly in rapid prototyping, will become an important support in small-lot production and manufacturing fully functional components.
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Siemens argues that 3D printing, along with an increased role of robotics, greater automation and other innovations are creating a “digital factory” that will force a day of reckoning among manufacturers.
“These technologies all evolve so fast,” said Andreas Saar, a vice president for additive manufacturing at Siemens.
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