Digital technology has changed the world in many ways, but much of it has just taken place in the realm of information on a screen. That’s all changing with the rise of 3D printing.
3D printing is a new type of manufacturing. Instead of starting with a block of material and machining it down into the shape you want, a 3D printer builds up your design by creating layer after layer of plastic or metal.
The technology is finding a home in everything from high-end manufacturing, with companies like Airbus, to customised medical devices. Here are four ways that 3D printing is beginning to change business.
When it comes to making prototypes, 3D printing has been in use for many years. But as the technology becomes more viable for finished products, companies will be able to bring new goods to market almost as quickly as they used to generate prototypes.
Amy Taylor, a director at MH Development Engineering, describes how easy the process is becoming: “We wake up the next morning to an email from the printer telling us it has finished the components, while we are making our morning coffee.”
Unlike traditional manufacturing, 3D printing is low cost and uses materials very efficiently. Without the hefty expense of old-style production lines, it makes it easier for new entrants to break into manufacturing.
“Thanks to more accessible technology, we are now reaching a critical mass of people who, when they think about how things are made, think in a different way. You could say they are thinking in 3D,” says TJ McCue, technology strategist and 3D printing expert.
From 3D printed sugar designs for a cake business to shoes constructed to the exact dimensions of your feet, this ultra-flexible manufacturing technique is offering new opportunities for on-demand, personalised products at a price people can afford.
“3D printing is giving companies the ability to be more expressive than they once were,” says Tom Hazzard at Hazz Design. “It’s a low-cost way to develop the exact products you want, entirely how you want them.”
At a time when we’re all concerned about our use of resources, the fact that additive manufacturing only uses the materials that it needs to build projects is a major boon. Any leftovers can often be recycled.
“Theoretically, the 3-D printing process can produce zero waste,” says a report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That means better margins for entrepreneurs and a better outlook for the planet.