3D Printing and Manufacturing
How 3D Printing Could Change the Manufacturing Industry
by Peter Printer
Peter Printer here to give you the scoop on 3D printing and what it could mean for the manufacturing industry moving forward.
3D printing is the process by which a device is used to make a physical object from a computer-generated design of the same object. As technology has continued to constantly evolve, 3D printing has evolved with it. While 3D printers still aren’t available at a consumer-friendly price range just yet, they aren’t far off.
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing, whereas traditional manufacturing is known as reductive manufacturing. The meaning behind these two terms is that where reductive manufacturing is the process of starting with all of the materials you need to make your finished product and then slowly chipping away until you have that product, additive manufacturing is the process of only adding the material needed. The perks of using additive manufacturing over reductive manufacturing are found in not wasting material, reducing manufacturing time and saving money.
Through the process of 3D printing, common products like household furniture or appliances can be printed and used as a model for reviewing the design of your product. This provides manufacturers with a concrete, life-like model that completely mimics the intended final product in terms of design. Need to make a revision? Just change the computer-generated design and presto! All of the needed changes are made. All of this cuts down on manufacturing time, and if 3D printing becomes repurposed for large-scale manufacturing, the more time-consuming method of using assembly lines can be phased out.
Should a massive shift in manufacturing processes move towards an increased use of 3D printing over reductive manufacturing methods, it might become more feasible to stop outsourcing manufacturing resources and thus move those facilities back into the United States. Then, with manufacturing located closer to those areas your company ships to most, you can save on the cost of shipping, too!
While all of this sounds great in theory, 3D printing isn’t quite at the point that it can be used en masse by mainstream manufacturers. Some companies are already on the forefront of 3D printing technology and using it as their primary method of manufacturing, such as Align Technology in San Jose, California. Instead of using old-fashioned metal braces, Align Technology uses 3D printers to produce plastic molds that can be used to straighten teeth. 3D printing has some clear benefits over traditional reductive manufacturing and it’s time we all take a closer look.