Ever since 3D printing became more popular, business analysts and experts have kept a close eye on the industry and some of them go as far as calling it an industrial revolution. There are many theories on its role in the manufacturing process and speculation about what the future holds for 3D printing. Nevertheless, the number of companies that are adopting and integrating 3D printing technologies is growing, with 90% claiming it provides them with a competitive advantage. 

3D printing is the future of manufacturing

It is important to note that every 3D printing technology endures different trends and goes its own ways across various industries:

  1. Jewelry
  2. Aerospace
  3. Healthcare

Huge corporations like Boeing, General Electric, Ford, Nike, Hasbro and Mattel are all using 3D printing as part of their manufacturing processes. However, to say that once you buy a 3D printer that you throw away your other tools would be unfair. Even the cheapest 3D printing methods are still too expensive and slow to switch to printed products only. The key is how you integrate 3D printing into the manufacturing chain.

3D printing shows the most effective results in:

Rapid prototyping and research

Wide choice of materials and colors, dimensional possibilities make 3D printing a great method, capable of delivering unique, complicated, functional prototypes of almost everything. Many industries integrate 3D printing to a prototyping or product development stage to cut down the expenses and create a new product or part quicker, and better. The more expensive and precise a product needs to be, the more important the prototyping step becomes. No matter what products a company creates, physical prototypes allow for thorough product testing to identify design flaws and help to avoid mistakes before committing to mass production. 

Low volume manufacturing

Many present-day manufacturing methods were created to support mass-production, which means they are only profitable when several thousand copies are produced. However, not all products require mass production, so 3D printing is suitable for low volume manufacturing and better than molding for example.

Personalized goods and presents

Nowadays, people tend to prefer products created especially for them – that includes clothing, glasses, jewelry, devices, and much more. Some customers are even willing to pay extra for a product that fits their personal needs and tastes, which creates a strong demand for 3D printing to join the game. Designers, retail outlets and companies can offer people personalized and custom goods ranging from some simple everyday products like toothbrushes to custom 3D printed bicycles, made fast.

Spare parts

Many complex tools, machines and devices need replacements from time to time. It’s easy to lose customers if you’re not available when they need you. 3D printing provides low-cost and fast replacement parts and is particularly useful for discontinued products. Because a part can be created on demand from a digital file, manufacturers don’t need to waste time and resources on producing spare parts before they are needed and focus on new products for their customers. When a replacement part is needed, additive manufacturing is the solution.

Props and mock-ups

Similar to that of prototypes, props, mock-ups and demonstration models need to be unique and aesthetically pleasing. In this way, 3D printing became a game changer for architects, designers, movie makers, animators, fashion designers and ordinary companies with creative marketing ideas. The potential to create impressive demo events and models quickly can accelerates sales, improve branding and marketing, which are critical to being competitive.

Custom medical devices

While some products can be standardized for the masses, implants, prosthetics and other medical devices should be customized for each individual to optimize comfort and effect. Some of them should also be made with fast turnaround and that’s where 3D printing comes into the picture. In addition, instead of creating a unique 3D model manually every time, 3D scanning can be used as well as modeling software tools. Manufacturing implants on a 3D printer can sometimes not be the cheapest option but it is a much easier and precise one.

3D printed prosthetic hand

Image: 3D printed prosthetic hand

What part of 3D printing requires a human?

3D printing is quite a computer-controlled thing: machines operate according to a code with maps out coordinates that if followed correctly produce the end result. Machine and software manufacturers tend to develop more fancy tools to reduce human involvement in the 3D printing process - sensors, auto-leveling systems, smart slicing, model analyzing programs, and the list goes on. However, for every 3D printing technology, human input is still required, which has the potential to produce outstanding products in the cheapest way possible or completely ruin parts even on the best 3D printer available.

The smarter a 3D printer is, the less personal input is required for the process to run. On average, people are responsible for:

1. Maintenance and control.

The machine can be smart but still it’s not alive. If a 3D printer is broken, it can’t go to the service center and repair itself. 3D printing technicians or engineers are required to monitor how a 3D printer operates, check the electronics and materials (because they can go awry, too) and fix everything if they notice errors or inaccuracy. Truth be told, many 3D printers don’t even care if they do the right thing or not – they just keep on going, layer-by-layer.

2. Slicing and preliminary preparations

As we mentioned, 3D printers react to a code, which comes from a 3D model passing through a slicing program. The more accurate the code, the better the result. Slicing programs have improved a lot, some of them can even advise on how to place a part and what settings to use. However, a slicer doesn’t know how you plan to use a part and what your critical deliverables are. Some plug-n-play printers with some preset software mechanisms are great in printing average models but can get lost if your part isn’t standard. While a technical professional who works with the machine on a regular basis knows the tips and tricks to improve the quality, speed, surface quality and even make it cheaper.

3. Design and model repairing

Printers can work with 3D models or even CT scans – many of them look simple and fine but inside a model there can be mistakes crucial for the entire process. Programs like Meshmixer, Blender, Meshfix and Trinckle can automatically repair models but that’s not always the best solution. A person experienced in making 3D designs can find problems and fix them or advise on a better file based on the knowledge of the technology being used, or vice versa, a more suitable technology for a particular model.

4. Material choice

Have you ever tried wearing concrete pajamas or use a knife made of paper? While these suggestions are foolish, it’s surprising to learn how many people almost make the same mistake while choosing materials for 3D printing. There are no standard materials that are suitable for all technologies, printers, models and applications. Also, the same materials for 3D printing are manufactured by different companies with small or big differences, so a 3D printer owner knows which material is better for the job and when to use each one.

5. Supports, unused material removal, curing

After a print is complete, no matter which printer is used, it requires to be removed from a build platform (and with some technologies it’s melted badly to it!) and cleaned. Sometimes (with SLA, DLP printing especially), a print should be cured too. For some prints, cleaning can last for hours at a time and if a model is fragile or complicated, it’s better to leave the process to an expert to prevent damaging the main structure.

How Treatstock can help with 3D Printing?

3D printing is helping to push the boundaries of technological progress across manufacturing industries. Some of the things possible with 3D printing sound like magic, however, even magicians need to be professionals and need some help from time to time. So, we are here to help 3D printing services, manufacturers and designers connect with business-to-business and business-to-consumers clients to broaden their reach and offer their services all over the world. Treatstock is also an innovative manufacturing infrastructure that is dedicated to providing new and useful tools and features to simplify and improve manufacturing processes that can lead to saving time and money.

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