Just like the Industrial Revolution and the arrival of the Internet, 3D printing is certain to be a game changer. With the lower cost of the equipment and an increase in printer speed, this technology is now being used for customized, on-demand manufacturing. In the same way that 3D printing is revolutionizing how laboratories fabricate waxups and metal restorations, this technology also has the potential to transform the way we make almost everything.
"Someday, perhaps, printers will revolutionize the world of medicine, churning out hearts, livers and other organs to ease transplantation shortages," writes Henry Fountain in his article, At the Printer, Living Tissue in the ScienceTimes, The New York Times, August 20, 2013. The ability to print organs is decades away so "for now, researchers have set their sights lower. Organovo, for instance, a San Diego company that has developed a bioprinter, is making strips of liver tissue, about 20 cells thick, that it says could be used to test drugs under development," explains Fountain.
Here are five other industries deriving the benefits of 3D printing:
Architecture and construction: 3D-printed models of complex architectural drawings have eliminated the expensive and time-consuming process of handcrafting models out of cardboard. And experimental, massive 3D printers are printing concrete structures and may someday create entire buildings!
Clothing: Consumers now have access to printed, personalized clothing. For instance, Continuum, a San Francisco-based clothing company, lets online users design their own apparel from scratch and manufactures the personalized garments for them using its 3D printers. The website also gives a buyer the ability to manipulate existing images of clothing, adapt the virtual blueprints to his or her body and purchase them as tangible objects.
Shoe manufacturing: The Financial Times reports that Nike and Adidas are using 3D printing to speed up the prototype process, "using the technology to make multiple prototype versions at a previously impossible speed." Adidas says it used to take 12 technicians to create one prototype, but thanks to 3D printing, it now takes no more than two. The company also said that 3D printers have reduced the time needed to evaluate a new prototype from six weeks down to just one or two days!
Automotive: 3D printing machines, which can cost car makers between $500,000 and $1 million per unit, are being used to make molds for plastic trim, brackets, air intake hoses and various under-hood components--commonly referred to as "black plastics." In addition, when automakers are designing prototypes for various pieces, such as a new air dam, the entire process, which usually takes a week to complete, can now be created with 3D printing in just one or two days. And, according to Dave Bolognino, Director of GM Design Fabrication Operations, "Manufacturers will likely shift production of printed parts into a higher gear once 3D Printers become better at combining two or more materials to make a finished product."
Archeology: Archeologists can 3D-scan priceless and delicate artifacts, easily print copies, and then distribute them to other research facilities or museums. The technology has even been used to help repair Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker.
In the future, experts predict that nearly every household will own a 3D printer and use them to print everything from to toys to curtain rings to cutlery. The items, just like any other document, would be sent straight to a 3D printer and recreated right in front of your eyes!
What are your overall thoughts on 3D printing? How has this technology impacted your business specifically? Leave your comments below--our readers would love to hear from you!