With its roots in the 1980s, 3D printing has already had an impact on manufacturing just by speeding up the development phase of production. As prices come down, printing speeds increase, and a wider range of materials can be utilized by 3D printers, this technology will affect manufacturing to an even greater extent. As uses grow, you’ll see this production technique spark ideas for new products traditional manufacturing methods can’t handle.
Past, Present, and Future Effects of 3D Printing
Mass production begins with a prototype. This step traditionally required months during which a one-of-a-kind object was constructed and tested. Now, 3D printing saves money by cutting production time to weeks or even days and freeing personnel for other operations. Rapid prototyping also permits the creation of multiple prototype versions that can be simultaneously tested. Another area where 3D printing is already impacting things is in the field of medicine where prosthetics, braces, and even replacement joints can be custom-designed to fit a patient’s specific measurements for optimal functionality and comfort. With the costs of 3D printers continuing to fall, though, this personalized production can be applied to a growing number of other merchandise. Currently, the price tag for every manufactured product you buy includes money needed to produce a large quantity of replacements parts and maintain storage facilities to hold them. The ability to 3D-print these parts as needed means the elimination of such warehouses along with their related expenses. Cheaper 3D printers will not only reduce the initial cost of manufactured goods, it will lower costs by extending their lifespans. Past a certain time, it’s no longer economical to maintain an inventory of spare parts for a particular item as its numbers shrink. There’s also the problem of some parts containing plastics that become hard and brittle if kept for too long. The use of 3D printing eliminates these time constraints. Finally, 3D printing has already demonstrated the ability to create hybrid materials blending plastics and metals as well as producing items with microscopic internal structures that make them lighter and stronger than anything traditional casting technology can achieve.
The Future’s Already Started
There’s been plenty of impact from 3D printing in the form of rapid prototyping and medical services. This method of manufacturing is also becoming preferred for small production runs of just a few thousand units or less since there’s no need to create expensive molds. As 3D printing costs continue to fall, you’ll see this technology tackling larger production runs. Unique material structures are another area where 3D printing really shines with aircraft manufacturers already putting it to good use and limitless possibilities on the horizon.