NEWS AND VIEWS

What can 3D-printing do for you?

  • Learn more by visiting an itSHOWCASE Software Discovery Day at a venue near you

    Register Me

3d-printPart 2 of a two part exploration by Michiel Beek, Product Marketing Manager for Exact Business Solutions, focusing on the latest trends and requirements within the international manufacturing industry…

In the first part of this article, we looked at the emergence of 3D-printing and the possible advantages it can offer. In this second part, we look at further smart applications for 3D-printing –now and in the future – and how you can determine whether it offers potential for your organization.

Custom

The 3D-printing technique lends itself brilliantly to the production of custom made items. We
discussed the relevance of prototypes in part 1, but there are enough products always produced to
individual specifications that can benefit from this technology.

A hearing aid is a perfect example, every ear being different to some extent. When you need to make a new mould for every ear that needs help, you’re quickly talking about a very expensive production process. 3D-printing can save a lot of money here – the mould no longer required. And there are other areas of the medical industry where 3D-printing seems to offer benefit. Think, for example, of dentistry or the use of 3D-printing to make prostheses.

Eat what you print

There are already applications for 3D-printing in the food production industry – like British sweet
manufacturer Choc Edge who have a printer offering chocolate in all manner of shapes and forms.
With the “ChefJet” from supplier 3D Systems, all sorts of candies with a range of coatings can be
printed.

A company that’s being sponsored by NASA is currently busy creating a machine that can print pizzas, and there’s also the “Foodini”, another machine that can print a range of foodstuffs including pasta.

Van super jets to shoes

Jet planes are usually made in small series, as are the component parts used in the construction
process. 3D-printing helps ensure that small series of parts can be produced as needed at a cost
efficient rate. At the beginning of 2014, A British jet, partially built from 3D-printed parts, was the
first aircraft of its kind to take to the skies.

Related post:  12 million jobs to be impacted by the digital revolution

3D-printing has also been employed to create spare parts in other fields. The petrochemical industry is one, where only a small number of spare parts are usually kept in stock. Or the automotive industry: parts for cars that are no longer produced can still be obtained when 3D-printing allows them to be made to order.

Another remarkable use is the printing of clothing and footwear. Lingerie from the printer is for sale, as are a new range of fashionable ladies shoes. All sorts of clothing brands are experimenting with self-adjustable (‘customizable’) clothing – if the customer can then actually print out the garment themselves all the better!

The future of 3D-printing

The continuing improvements in 3D technology will support more and more complex applications for businesses. As prices come down, printers will become more and more accessible for consumers. It’s expected that 3D printers will steadily become more and more common in the average home. The applications will then extend significantly further – many believing that designing and then directly printing your own products will become commonplace. And for people who can’t or don’t want to access their own 3D printer, there are already “3D-print shops” – just like the Xerox shops of the past that made ink printing available to all.

Bio-printing

An important development in the medical world is the bio-printing of organs. Instead of metal or
plastic, the printers will work with human stem cells. Cells will gradually be layered upon each other, eventually creating the form of the desired replacement body part. The greatest benefit here is the drastic reduction in the chance of rejection. Trying to successfully implant a donor organ – that can be identified as foreign by the body – is a risky business. These printed organs will be made from the recipient body’s own cells, drastically reducing the chance that an immune response is triggered.

Related post:  Digital transformation – the missing piece

The potential dangers of printing

In addition to all the potential benefits 3D-printing offers society and the business world, there are
certainly also potential problems. Do we want everyone to easily be able to create dangerous objects like firearms? If designs for almost anything can be made easily available online, there are also difficult questions to answer regarding intellectual property and user rights.

What can 3D-printing mean for you?

As we have said above, 3D-printing will become more and more affordable. There are, for example,
good 3D-printers that can print two sorts of material at the same time (“dual extruders”) and can be bought for around 1500 euros. There are also scanners available for a few hundred euros that can create a 3D model of an object. The model can then also be adjusted with accompanying software and printed again. This presents a range of interesting possibilities.

Companies should certainly look critically at potential opportunities to apply 3D-printing. In these
two articles, we have looked at a range of practical applications happening already – and there are
certainly more to find online. It’s genuinely a ‘trending topic’. The branch you operate in, and the
processes you have to manage aside, there could well be exciting opportunities for you to apply the technology – if not now, then in the near future as it’s reach continues to expand.