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3D Printing and Why It Matters


30 Oct 3D Printing and Why It Matters

Imagine opening up your mailbox and instead of receiving a personalized mailer with your name on it, there was an exact replica miniature figurine of yourself with a QR code promotion scanner on the back. This is a realistic capability for the future of the printing industry with the application of 3-Dimentional Printing. 1983 marked an unbelievable milestone when Charles Hull created the first 3-Dimentional (3D) Printer capable of printing an actual part. During that time, we were still decades away from understanding how this advancement would come to change the way we live and effect almost every major industry.

To put it into perspective, the worldwide 3D printing industry is expected to increase from $3.07 billion dollars in revenue in 2013 to $12.8billion dollars by 2018. So what exactly is it? In its simplest form, ‘3D printing’ (also known as additive manufacturing) is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. Basically, an object is made through an additive process of laying down successive layers of material until it is a completed whole.

Imagine an object you would like to create. For example, a coffee mug. You would begin by building a virtual design of the mug in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file, using a 3D modeling program on the computer. (If you had printed a coffee mug before, you have the option of copying an existing object using a 3D scanner.) The 3D modeling software then prepares the digital CAD file for printing by slicing the final model into thousands of horizontal layers. In the final step when the file is uploaded into a 3D printer, the object is then created layer by layer. These layers are exceedingly thin; therefore, they are barely visible in the ending 3D product.

So why does 3D printing matter? This process is responsible for tremendous advancements in the medical, aerospace, aviation and automotive industries, and has the potential to bring innovation to countless other areas. Medically, 3D printing is evolving at a rapid pace as specialists begin to test and utilize its full capabilities in more advanced ways. Thousands of patients worldwide are gaining improved quality of care through 3D prosthetics and implants that we have never before been able to produce. Additionally, 3D printing has opened a door for a field of research termed “bio-printing.” Biotech firms and universities have studied 3D printing technology for possible use in tissue engineering applications, where organs and body parts are designed and produced using inkjet techniques.

The metal additive manufacturing sector of 3D printing has launched the Aerospace and aviation industries to the next level. This process is very similar to traditional 3D printing techniques, except it produces the 3D parts layer by layer from a metal powder. In the past five years, it has given NASA the ability to create a rocket launch engine, which has accelerated its overall production. In other words, what took years to build now only takes months.

The automotive industry was one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing. Applications have evolved over the years from simple concept models created as references for fit and finish checks into actual functioning parts. Today, functional parts can be found in test vehicles, engines and platforms. Researchers project that 3D printing in the automotive industry will generate a combined $1.1 billion dollars by 2019.

3D printing has even made an influence in the general commercial market via rapid prototyping. Speedy 3D printers are used to save companies time and money in the prototyping process. For example, Nike uses 3D printers to build multicolored prototypes of shoes. A prototype originally cost Nike thousands of dollars and took weeks of waiting time. Now, with the aid of 3D printing, it only costs hundreds of dollars and changes can be easily made on the computer, with a prototype reprinted that same day. 3D printing has the ability to change the nature of commerce, since end users will be able to do much of their own manufacturing, instead of engaging with other people and corporations to buy products.

3D printing capabilities will unmistakably lend countless opportunities to bring traditional print to life, taking the materials we use today, laying flat on paper and delivering a sense of touch. It offers the printing industry an edge against competing communication channels we have never had before. This is a step into a new progressive era of creativity for printing and packaging organizations alike. Time will bring increased popularity and with effects on energy use, waste reduction, design, production, customization, medicine, construction and art, 3D printing will make major changes in the world as we know it.

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