It’s the period of the do-it-yourself manufacturer. 3D printing is leveling the playing field so that essentially anyone with access to a computer, a 3D printer and the know-how can create new products and designs. The future of 3D printing is bright.
Though 3D printing has been around for decades, the evolution of technology has brought 3D printing to consumer-friendly prices and the Internet has made 3D printing materials widely available to just about anyone with a connection. 3D printing is bringing manufacturing to the non-manufacturers, much like how PCs brought computing to the non-programmers.
So where will we see 3D printing change the way we’re manufacturing? Here’s a few ideas:
Aerospace and Defense
Though 3D printing has been around in the A&D industry for awhile (companies use it for rapid prototyping), producing parts on-demand, as well as lighter, faster machines will revolutionize the industry. For the military, this might mean the ability to print replacement parts right on the battlefield. The supply chain will be significantly faster and more powerful in that respect. There’s still a long way to go, but there’s been progress.
Have you ever tried on an article of clothing or footware and wished that it was a little bigger or smaller? That it could fit you literally like a glove? This is possible with the power of 3D printing. Shoes can be customized specifically for the wearer. Instead of creating a product that customers might like, companies can manufacture products that customers order specifically with their taste in mind.
3D printing is about thinking about new ways to do old things, but also about figuring out what we can do now that we couldn’t do before. Creating brand new products and approaches is a part of the 3D printing culture. Doing what we thought was impossible is going to change manufacturing as we know it. Who knows what is possible!
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The plummeting cost of 3D printers is a big factor in its widespread growth. These devices can be used with various material types, utilizing already popular CAD software and computer hardware, making it feasible for just about any industry or business to get some use out of the ability to create physical components basically at will.
With a 3D printer, one does not have to be an engineer or have access to a manufacturing plant to get new items -- they can just print them in house or contract a facility with a 3D printer of its own. Often, these printed objects are lighter and easier to work with than objects made through more traditional means. Thanks to another rapidly growing technology -- cloud storage, templates and images for printing can be easily disseminated, allowing for the rapid development of the best possible techniques to use for any given printable object.
An object like a bicycle no longer has to be built to integrate with all its components, like chains, pedals, and gears. Each part of the bike can be printed and downloaded to exact specification, allowing anyone to put together custom equipment to a degree never before possible. Such processes can be scaled up, as well. A USA Today article even details the creation of a new hybrid transmission. A functional prototype was made from aluminum powder after a day or two of printing.
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