How 3D Printing is Changing Manufacturing

By Andrew Miller on

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has forever changed the way we live, work, manufacture and transport goods and information. For decades we have fine-tuned manufacturing methods like injection molding and various forms of subtractive manufacturing to create new products as cheaply and quickly as possible. The globalized supply chain has been challenged time and time again as businesses do everything they can to reduce costs and drive revenue for growth. Each industrial revolution that came before was followed by massive economic growth in the countries and businesses that embraced the changes. This time has been no different.

Development of new Additive Manufacturing software

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a prime example of how the digital and physical worlds augment each other to drive productivity, efficiency and reduce costs. Software programs have been developed and thoroughly tested that allow a user to 3D scan their part and compare it to the original CAD model to see if and how the part has warped when printed. The software can recognize how features are printed layer by layer to make changes to the original CAD model automatically so when it is printed again these features are built as desired, increasing accuracy and consistency. With the right feedback, some AM machines can utilize this data to correct and calibrate itself during each print to build those features better. This feedback loop constantly improves the machine and can share the changes it makes to other machines worldwide via the internet.

3D scan of part
3D scanned part

New manufacturing applications

Originally utilized for rapid prototyping, the 3D printing industry has gained traction in a huge range of applications. For example, medical device companies have begun replacing components of their machines, such as brackets, grips, and electrical housings, with 3D printed parts made of carbon fiber nylon, ESD-safe thermoplastics, and a variety of UV-cured resins. The lead time on these parts is reduced from weeks to hours because a machinist shop is not used to either CNC these parts or create injection molds for short run production. Even if mass production was desired, short run injection molds can be 3D printed to test if the mold design works as intended, taking only a day to print and costing less than two thousand dollars. With traditional methods, this would take six weeks lead time costing over eight thousand dollars. Overnight and weekend printing becomes invaluable as the ‘workforce’ can print in ‘lights out’ conditions.

3D printed injection molds
3D printed injection molds

Expanding material options

The AM industry has focused much of its efforts the last 10 years on developing new manufacturing techniques under the additive umbrella. Many of these techniques were designed to offer new geometries, faster printing, higher resolution or more consistency in printed parts. Now, the next big push in the AM industry seems to be materials and software development. Companies like Stratasys have discovered that allowing their customers to use any 3rd party manufacturer’s materials in their industrial scale 3D printers offers a wide level of versatility rarely found elsewhere. These Open Material Licenses give the user the option of using cheaper alternatives of common materials like ABS, ASA, and Nylon 12, or allow them to develop and test their own materials in-house. Additive manufacturing has given small and big companies alike the opportunity to create new geometries, reduce material usage, and respond quickly to supply chain shortages. The new materials in development for these processes will further replace difficult to make parts, inspire new products at lower costs, and change the way we transport goods.

Learn more about the technologies impacting manufacturing

What can 3D printing do for you? Check out the 3D printing portion of TriMech’s blog to discover case studies of various applications ranging from the aerospace and medical device industries of small and big businesses alike. Also check out the SOLIDWORKS and Artec scanner sections to learn how 3D software and hardware can be utilized together to their fullest potential!