Over the last decade or so, 3D printing has gone from the realms of science fiction to reality. The promises of 3D printing – machines that could print out physical pieces and products on-demand – once seemed too good to be true. However, now that the technology has advanced sufficiently, it is possible to buy a 3D printer to use at home. There are even websites that offer databases of digital blueprints of objects for users to download and print out.
Once the full promise of 3D printing is realized, it will be a technology with the power to completely upend the way that we think about the manufacture of everyday products. The world of manufacturing hasn’t seen technology as potentially exciting or disruptive as 3D printing in a very long time. Below are just some of the ways in which 3D printing is set to revolutionize the world of manufacturing over the next decades.
Many claims were made about the benefits that 3D printing could bring to our manufacturing industries. Among these, the idea that 3D printing is a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly way of approaching product manufacturing than traditional methods is one of the most significant. While 3D printers as they currently exist largely work with plastic in order to produce products, they are able to use these plastics much more efficiently than conventional manufacturing methods. This significantly reduces the volume of plastic required to produce each 3D printed component.
Most traditional manufacturing methods are of the subtractive type. This means that the machines involved work to reduce the size of a piece of material until it has been crafted into the desired shape. 3D printing, on the other hand, utilizes additive manufacturing. This means that layer after layer is added to a piece until it is complete, ensuring that the process only uses as much material as is required and nothing more.
More Efficient Prototyping
Prototyping is a vital component of the product development process. Designing, building, and testing prototypes enable businesses to identify any shortcomings in their designs and address them long before their products hit the shelves and make their way into consumers’ hands. Therefore, finding more efficient ways of designing and developing prototypes for products will enable businesses to refine their prototypes to a greater degree than was previously possible and at a fraction of the price.
Most prototypes will begin life as simple sketches rendered on paper, but will eventually evolve into physical representations of the final product design. Without the benefit of 3D printing, businesses are forced to decide on the best manufacturing method to use in order to produce prototypes to the specifications that they need.
By using 3D modeling services to produce prototypes, businesses can take advantage of this revolutionary manufacturing method. For example, these 3D modeling services from Rapid Direct enable businesses to produce product prototypes from a variety of materials, including PLA, ABS, and Nylon. They also offer a range of finishes, such as painting, polishing, and powder coating, depending on your needs.
Manufacture to Demand
When utilizing traditional manufacturing methods, manufacturers will produce as much of a product as they are expected to sell. Many products today require multiple supply chains to come together in order to supply all of the requisite components to produce a product. However, by utilizing 3D printing, it is possible for a single manufacturer to produce products on demand.
Improve the Lifespan of Products and Appliances
Consumer products come with a finite shelf life. Sooner or later, they will fail or a component within them will break and they will need to be replaced. In some cases, you might be able to source a replacement component or repair the appliance yourself, but this is often a difficult and involved process. Unless the product is designed specifically to be repaired, then the chances of being able to repair it are often slim.
With 3D printing, it is easy to design modular products that can be repaired with ease. What’s more, with 3D printed products, you are no longer dependent on the manufacturer to keep producing spare components for you to use. Instead, you can simply print off replacement parts as you need them.
Improving the shelf life of everyday products will further reduce the amount of waste generated by their manufacture and adds to the green credentials of 3D printing.
Endless Customization Opportunities
Economies of scale have always been important to manufacturing, enabling savings when large numbers of a product are produced in one go. But while economies of scale enable lower production costs, it also inevitably leads to a higher degree of standardization. A standardized approach might not be a bad thing in all cases, but there are some products that can benefit from the ability to customize. For these products, traditional manufacturing approaches make it difficult and expensive to produce variants on a basic model.
On the other hand, with 3D printed products, it is easy to tweak a digital design file slightly in order to produce a customized version of a product. Whether this means changing the color, adding a pattern to the product, or even changing its functionality in some way, 3D printing makes it viable for businesses to produce small production runs of customized versions of their products.
A Disruption of Traditional Supply Chains
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a number of issues with the current global supply chain that we are all dependent on. All it takes is one manufacturer in one part of the world to take a serious hit and it can have repercussions that resonate through the entire global economy. 3D printing allows us to step outside of this supply chain and take control of the entire production process for ourselves.
As 3D printers proliferate and become more common amongst both businesses and consumers, it is inevitable that we will start to see the global approach to manufacturing shift accordingly. There may be some products that consumers can print out for themselves at home, but at least initially, there will be more specialized products that require more advanced printing capabilities than most people will have in their homes. Instead of waiting for components and supplies to be shipped from overseas, local 3D printing stores can simply request digital files and then print out the necessary products for customers.
3D printing is a revolutionary technology in a number of ways. While 3D printing has come a long way since its inception, it is still a technology that is very much in its infancy; we have some way to go before its full capabilities are realized. However, even in its early stages, the promise that 3D printing offers for the future is clear. It is hard to think of another technology in recent times that has the same power to change the way that we think about manufacturing.
Once 3D printing fully matures, it will provide us with a greener and more sustainable method for producing everything that we need. From basic household products to individual components for household appliances, 3D printing reduces our production costs while enabling us to move away from many of the traditional restrictions that limit our manufacturing abilities.