Industry-wise transformation with 3D printing
Present & Future trends in 3D printing
3D printing, a technology whose importance is growing every day, has started to change the face of many industries. Quite often, we hear its surprising new applications in different sectors like manufacturing, designing, research and development, healthcare, agriculture, automotive and the list goes on.
3D Printing – Creating Future
Though 3D printing has gained popularity only in the last 10 years, it is not an entirely new concept. The process of 3D printing objects was invented in the 1980s. During that time it was popularly called “rapid prototyping”. The first account of 3D printing is obtained from the year 1981 when Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute built a solid model in layers. Then in 1984, Charles Hull invented stereolithography which enables the creation of 3D models through curing of photopolymers with ultraviolet light lasers.
About the technology
In 3D printing or additive manufacturing, three-dimensional objects are made from a digital file. These 3D printed objects are created using additive processes wherein objects are created through successive layers of material laid on top of each other.
The following industries are evolving technologically using 3D printing.
Automotive & Manufacturing Industry
Companies in this sector have been using 3D printing for quite some time. Jigs, fixtures, tools, and interior automotive elements are being built using this technology. The technology has the potential to reduce dependence on external suppliers and reduce time to market. Ability to produce some of the components on-demand results in a reduction of inventory for such items and also the production cycle.
The creation of strong and lightweight components for a few specific applications is also possible.
The demand for electric vehicles is rising due to widespread awareness about pollution from gasoline-based traditional automobiles. 3D printing will play a crucial role in this sector. Many auto companies have developed a completely 3D printed version of electric cars.
Many auto giants like Jaguar, BMW are using 3D printing technology to reduce the cost and weight of the vehicle. As per the report of Market Watch, the global automotive 3D printing market size was valued at $910 Million in 2018 and is projected to touch at $3,210 Million by 2025.
In the manufacturing sector, a concept of distributed manufacturing is becoming popular. In this, the production is decentralized to enable the manufacturing of the final product near to the location of the customer. This is not possible in traditional or centralized manufacturing. The biggest problem of warehousing parts in distributed manufacturing can be solved with 3D printing where instead of keeping parts in physical spaces, digital copies of those parts in the form of CAD files are integrated with 3D printers for on-demand production. Digital files can be saved on the cloud.
Aviation & Space
The core differentiating feature of 3D printing technology with regards to the aviation industry is the ability to produce lightweight parts and complex geometries. This results in a reduction of energy requirements and also resources. Many leading aerospace companies are using this technology for the production of parts of aircraft or even rockets. 3D printing of Cobalt-chrome fuel nozzles in LEAP aircraft engines of GE Aviation is one such example. In this, consolidation of 20 individual parts into a single component using 3D printing has resulted in a 25% weight reduction and 4 times increase in strength.
GE has also developed a new turboprop engine using 3D printing.
One of the start-ups of the United Kingdom named Orbex has built the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine. This engine is printed as a single piece with no joints. NASA is also working on various ways to print certain parts in space.
An interesting application of this technology is in printing foods. 3D printed food for astronauts in space can make the space trips longer. In line with this, a startup BeeHex has developed a 3D printer that can make pizzas!
According to Strat View Research, the aerospace 3D printing market is estimated at US$ 1,860.1 million in 2019 and is expected to reach US$ 6,717.4 million in 2027.
The emergence of 3D printing in construction has led many to believe that the future of construction lies in this technology. It’s now possible to print doors, floors, and even entire houses using a robotic device that prints layer by layer by extruding concrete. This technique is called Contour Crafting developed by Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis. Buildings and houses have been 3D printed in cities like Dubai, Austin in Texas, etc.
The use of 3D printing, however, is more widespread in design phase applications in construction projects. Architects can print scaled-down models of buildings, estates, etc. which can greatly help in communicating problem areas and efficient & clear communication with clients
There are many examples of end-use consumer electronics and products made with 3D printed parts. 3D printing systems like Optomec are being used by manufacturers to make antennas, sensors, and other components.
3D printing can be advantageous in the manufacturing of devices like smartphones, fitness tracking, and monitoring accessories, tablets, etc. that require multiple steps in the assembly of components for mass production. 3D printing can create devices in a single part eliminating the need to assemble.
3D printing is creating wonders in healthcare. Experimentation on 3D printed implants is also gaining pace. 3D printed hip replacement parts and hearing aids are now quite common. Phonak, a hearing aid manufacturer developed Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM) in 2001 that eliminated the need for multiple steps involved in making the aid like mold making and hand sculpting.
“Bioprinting” is also being researched rigorously. It is the use of 3D printing to make materials that mimic those found in the human body like blood vessels, bone, tissues, etc. Bioprinting can also pave the way for testing drugs without animal trials. 3D-printed skin is being used for testing cosmetics products.
3D printing is being used to print prosthetics that are customized according to the patient’s needs. The technology greatly reduces the cost and production time for prosthetics when compared with traditional methods of manufacturing.
It has also proved to be very helpful in creating interactive anatomical models for use before surgeries. These models greatly improve the accuracy in real surgeries and clinical procedures by providing the opportunity to practice surgical techniques. In this direction, GE Healthcare has partnered with Formlabs (producer of 3D printer & headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts) to help print patient-specific anatomical models.
According to Allied Market Research, the global 3D printing healthcare market size was valued at $973 million in 2018 and is projected to reach $3,692 million by 2026.
The use of 3D printers enables students to materialize and communicate their ideas effectively and affordably. The technology allows students to think actively on a deeper level rather than become passive learners.
Start-ups and R&D
Many of the product based startups have to iterate their offering based on feedback from their potential customers during a very early stage of starting up. Changes in product offerings after each cycle of feedback demand a lot of effort and time especially when traditional fabrication techniques are used. Time and cash are the most valuable resources for any idea stage or early-stage startup.
3D printing significantly reduces the time to prototype resulting in faster feedback based iterations. Even the research and development departments of different companies require multiple prototypes for testing various aspects of the product. 3D printing provides a fast and cost-effective solution for such activities.
Agriculture relies greatly on hardware like farm equipment, fertilizing systems etc. isolated areas.
Farm-equipments have multiple components. Failure of any component during harvesting can result in a loss to farmers as most of the farms are located in remote areas. A 3D printed part created right at the location of failure can help farmers in reducing dependency on a component or spare suppliers.
3D printed jewelry can be a real deal on the market due to short processing time, a high degree of freedom to design complex geometries, and the ability to provide great details on a very small scale. Traditional methods of jewelry fabrication fail to make too complex geometries and provide such a high degree of detail.
3D printing provides the option to print sports items like running shoes, bicycles, guards, surfing boards, etc. from a wide range of materials. Popular sports brands like Nike, Adidas, etc. are conceiving the production of shoes using 3D printing. 3D printing also provides the opportunity to prototype new designs of products in a faster manner.
What do industry leaders say?
According to Arno Held, Chief Venture Officer of AM Ventures, additive manufacturing will be mature enough to integrate into existing manufacturing workflows by the end of this decade. The technology will revolutionize the way we develop, create, and source goods.
According to Naresh Shanker, Chief Technology Officer, Xerox, additive manufacturing will be a mainstream element of most assembly lines over the next decade.
This emerging technology has the potential to transform our society as well as industries. Industry leaders and innovators from around the world need to come together and collaborate to make this technology mature fast for a variety of industries and uncover profitable markets.
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