3D printing is about to take over many manufacturing processes in a very big way. The technology has already moved well beyond producing prototypes and small runs of parts for all sorts of different products, along with things such as little items of jewellery. For example, Aurora Flight Sciences has produced unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) used by the US forces, printing the entire body in one piece with wingspans up to 132 feet.
Many major companies have been using 3D printing, such as General Electric making jet engines and medical devices, Google (consumer electronics), Invisalign (teeth braces), and Lockheed Martin (aerospace and defence).
More and more companies will follow suit as the many benefits of 3D printing become more apparent. The range of materials that can be printed is ever-expanding, and now includes cement, glass, a wide choice of different metals and alloys, ceramics, and more.
One may find it hard to understand why and how this technology can replace the way that large quantities of items have traditionally been made. For instance, an injection moulding machine can produce thousands of parts an hour, whereas if you have ever watched a 3D printer in action you will wonder how it could possibly compare.
Of course, when you use something such as an injection moulding machine you have to remember that there was a huge investment of time and money up front before the first part ever appeared. That first part cost a small fortune. Obviously, the costs diminish rapidly as the machine continues to spit out the parts. 3D printers, however, are far less expensive to set up in the first place which is why they are so valuable for producing prototypes or small runs of parts. Furthermore, they are totally flexible.
It Becomes Very Simple To Change A Part
What that means is that when a part needs to be changed, it is a very simple matter to do just that. If you are going to produce a part differently with an injection moulding machine, it is going to cost a fortune and take time to make the necessary alterations. Then you need to be certain that those parts will be needed in large enough quantities and for a long enough time to cover the initial expense.
3D printing services, on the other hand, such as those we provide at London 3D Printing, are totally flexible. You need to make a change to the design of something? Simple. In fact, it gets even better than that because with 3D printing it is a simple matter to customise anything at all – whether that be a colour, shape, or anything else – so that you can produce a single item which is designed to the exact specification of a customer.
Furthermore, things can now be made in one go without any assembly required. For instance, a simple example is sunglasses, which can have soft plastic for the earpieces while the frames that hold the lenses are hard, and the lenses themselves are all included. All in one go and with no assembly needed.
3D printing can produce far more complex parts and products with greater interior detailing. This is the reason that General Electric has switched over to making jet engine nozzles using 3D printing services. It actually makes around 45,000 of them a year, so you would think that it would be more cost-effective to use a traditional process, but in fact that required the nozzle’s 20 parts to be made separately and then assembled, while the complete nozzle can be built in one process with 3D printing and this has reduced the cost by 75%.
Furthermore, 3D printing can be used to produce parts as and when they are needed. So for instance, instead of having a warehouse full of shelves bearing thousands of different parts for, say, a range of cars, a part can be manufactured on the spot when a mechanic phones in to order one.
Certainly, additive manufacturing is taking off. One company has already produced a complete car in 48 hours including the body, chassis, wheels, seating, dashboard – the whole thing. 3D printing is not a revolution waiting to happen but is already happening all around us.