3D Printing: The Industrial Revolution
It is no secret that the future is here with 3D printing. As Shapeways so well puts it in their slogan “Made in the Future” – this technology is becoming very accessible with an exponential rate of development. The ability to create objects straight from a computer model has revolutionized many engineering and manufacturing processes. Cutting costs and time, 3D printing has also made complex manufacturing more accessible to smaller businesses. By printing prototypes of castings, for example, engineers no longer need to wait on costly cast samples to verify designs. Most of the time, a printed model can be used to confirm and initiate a production run of components (and assist the casting company in making the tooling). 3D printing can even be used to create single-use moulds to “rapid cast” a part if real-world application testing is needed. This process for prototyping and validation can be applied to parts from any material or manufacturing method.
For now, the 3D printing process is mostly used for prototyping or on demand production of smaller, simpler plastic parts or even jewelry. The real impact of the technology is when it is more advanced and cheaper – as any technology becomes with mass market demand and implementation.
Plaster or plastic based 3D printing is most common and cheapest at the moment. Metal based 3D printers are coming online as well, used more in aerospace, defense and advanced research industries – is also the most expensive process. With the evolution of current printers and with the development of “mixed media” ones, factories will be upgrading and replacing existing assembly lines, machinery and tooling with an array of 3D printers.
3D printing will become the faster, cheaper way to make things. Part-specific tooling and machinery will be eliminated and re-tooling will consist of just uploading a new file. Once printers start to mix media – a single printer will be able to produce a whole device, with metallics, plastics and electric circuitry. Ultimately food and human tissue will be printed as well (research is already underway).
These are the kinds of technological advances that define the future and impact not just specific industries – but change the world. We are excited to use these systems with our current projects and develop new products to take advantage of 3D printing, not just for prototyping, but as the primary manufacturing technique.
One of our current projects is based around a simple OEM part requiring basic reverse engineering, tweaking and manufacturing out of a different, premium material. Originally made of injection moulded ABS plastic, our client was looking to manufacture it out of aircraft grade aluminum. This change in material would make the part have a more solid, smoother feel with better aesthetics.
We used 3D printing to validate the specs to ensure OEM-like fitment and to get a “feel” for the small aesthetic design changes to the original OEM configuration. Once verified – the production run was started. The final manufacturing process is CNC lathe turning and anodizing for the final finish.