It doesn’t seem that long ago when the concept of printing in 3D was something you’d only expect to see in a science fiction movie.
The technology is still in its infancy and has yet to reach its full potential, but as it improves and the costs come down, a 3D printer is increasingly becoming an established tool in many business environments.
Big corporations and small enterprises alike are using what is referred to as additive manufacturing to improve their output and maximise profits. Those who don’t own their own printer can get their work done at a 3D printing bureau. Some local post offices are now also offering a 3D printing service for customers.
3D printers traditionally use a plastic material, but there are those which can also use metal, wood pulp, or even food.
One major advantage of a 3D image is the ease in creating a prototype before it is sent off to be manufactured. Adjustments can easily be made at a fraction of what it would cost to engineer an object in a different medium.
The process also enables a large number of prototypes to be produced economically. This is useful for promotional purposes and has far more impact than handing someone a brochure. It can also be useful if you want to show samples of a new product your company is exploring, when seeking investment.
What you have printed doesn’t have to be a prototype. It can be the finished product which can be used commercially. Some of the biggest companies in the world use 3D printing for their products, among them General Electric, which prints fuel nozzles in metal for jet engines. Boeing, too, has a total of 30 different parts, including hinges and air ducts, printed for use on its 787 Dreamliner.
Ford and Nike also use parts produced by a 3D printing service, but you don’t have to be a conglomerate to take advantage of the technology. There are successful businesses flourishing because of the relatively low cost of making a product such as plant pots, which can be made with biodegradable materials, holiday souvenirs, or toys for children. The only drawback is that at the moment, a machine can only print in one colour, but the technology is moving so fast that this will undoubtedly be addressed soon.
Another huge advantage of 3D printing is the ability to customise each and every item. The jewellery company American Pearl offers customers the opportunity of creating their own unique rings or brooches from a choice of eight metals such as rose gold or platinum, along with a range of diamonds, emeralds and pearls. The customer designs their item, which is printed into a plastic mould, into which the metal is poured and the gems added.
At the other end of the spectrum, items such as children’s toys can quickly be turned round, either as a bulk order, or for personalised individual models.
When you can have any product made in any shape, then what you produce is only limited by your imagination. Optimise your design, think about your workflow, and bring your new business products to market in an innovative manner. The results could be a startling 3D printed creation.