Prototyping is an essential stage in product development, and 3D printing technology has proven its worth by cutting timelines and speed. Without having to invest in tooling, designers now have greater flexibility for testing designs quickly and implementing changes quickly.
3D printing can also be used to produce spare parts more cost effectively and reduce delivery times, and create customized dental devices like clear aligners.
3D printing has proven especially valuable in the medical field, where it has allowed for the creation of custom implants and hearing aids tailored exactly to each patient.
Preoperative planning has also changed, leading to shorter surgery times for patients and less intrusion into their bodies. This is made possible because surgeons can practice procedures using digital models of patients’ anatomy from an MRI or CT scan as planning tools.
Surgeons can utilize 3D printed models to visualize a patient’s internal structures and test various surgical approaches before performing surgery. Surgeons can even print surgical guides – tools used by surgeons during an operation – that help guide where cuts need to be made during an operation. Since 2010, hospitals with central 3D facilities have seen their numbers skyrocket from three in 2010 to over 100 today – an indication of personalized medicine’s rapid advancement.
Aerospace is an industry in which 3D printing is particularly well-suited, offering numerous advantages that reduce development times and enhance flexibility for end-use parts.
Reducing production and maintenance costs through consolidating complex components into single ones can also help decrease weight and strengthen structures.
Aerospace companies can also utilize 3D printing to fabricate custom tooling equipment like jigs and fixtures for their production lines. French aerospace company Latecoere used this technique to reduce manufacturing time from six weeks using CNC milling to only a couple days with 3D printing.
Aerospace engineers are exploring printing materials that could be used for prosthetics and implants that fit each person perfectly, potentially leading to safer and more comfortable devices for patients.
Automotive industries are taking advantage of 3D printing in many different ways, from prototyping to manufacturing to tooling. Automakers can rapidly shorten design cycles while decreasing inventory storage needs by producing spare parts, tools and jigs as needed.
Rapid prototyping is one of the primary strategies employed by automotive companies, used to test designs prior to mass production runs and create unique components with reduced costs and weight.
Porsche has also joined in, using metal 3D printing to produce spare parts on demand for classic car enthusiasts and keep inventory costs at a minimum.
4. Consumer Goods
Consumer goods represent an enormous market, and not just in terms of product sales; 3D printing can also produce just about any object imaginable that can be moulded or shaped using 3D scanning and printing technologies.
Technology allows for local on-demand production, eliminating the need to ship products around the globe – which significantly lowers logistics and supply chain costs.
3D printing not only streamlines product development processes but also allows for greater customization – whether that be shoes made-to-measure for an individual wearer, unique eyewear designs, or new dental products like clear aligners which provide more comfort and aesthetic appeal than traditional braces.
Manufacturing industries also benefit from this technology, producing custom tools and spare parts quickly and efficiently. For instance, the rail industry uses it to quickly print custom gauges on demand.
Adopting additive manufacturing technology to produce parts and tools reduces timescales for repairs, replacement components and custom fabrications, mitigating rig downtime by eliminating costly shipping fees and carbon emissions through point of need fabrication.
3D printers use only the material necessary for each print job, making waste reduction lower than other traditional manufacturing processes. Virtual designs of objects act as blueprints while printing occurs layer by layer.
Digital workflows also enable forensic 3D printing, such as CT scans that can be turned into prints to aid crime investigations. Reconstructions of bones printed with 3D technology have helped identify victims and bring justice to perpetrators; such applications go beyond process innovation to directly improve lives.