What is the most amazing thing about us? About human beings? The answer is simple- it is a never-stopping progress and development? Who would ever have thought that a man will be able to create a printer that prints a 3D human ear or anything one can ever imagine?
Today it is a reality. Moreover, it one of the hottest topics discussed in the media.
It's interesting, that the technological world introduced the 3D printing technology already in the 1986 year, but the technology wasn't that important and respected until 1990. At that time, its popularity didn't go beyond the fields of manufacturing, architecture, engineering.
The technology of 3D printing is also known as the desktop fabrication. It can form the object from any type of material that can be obtained as a powder. To create an object one needs a digital 3-D model, which can be easily scanned with 3D-scanners or drawn on the computer with the assistance of the software – computer-aided (CAD) model. The easiest way, probably, is to simply download them from the Internet.
In a nutshell, the process of printing looks like the following way: a digital 3D model is sent in STL-format and then sent to the printer. When the printer receives the object, it is processed by so-called 'slicing software' that divides this object into very thin cross-sections that are printed layer-by-layer.
Actually, 3D printing implies various additive manufacturing technologies. Each of them prints objects in layers that are very thin – 0.1 mm. However, no matter what printing method is used, everything will anyway begin with the above-mentioned CAD model or a scan.
Basically, there are 4 types of 3D printers. Therefore, there are printers 1) extruding semi-liquid or molten materials; 2) solidifying a photocurable resin; 3) binding or fusing the powder granules; and, finally, 4) sticking together cut sheets of metal, paper or even plastic.
Furthermore, there are seven 3D printing technologies like material extrusion, material jetting, vat photopolymerization, etc.
Speaking about the use of 3D-printing today, it should be said that now 3D printing as «end-use manufacturing technology» is still in the beginning of its development. However, in the nearest future, it may radically change the regular understanding of design, logistics processes, and production, especially if this technology is combined with nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
Application of 3D printing is wide indeed. The most important application of the new technology is in the medical industry, as surgeons, for example, are able to «print» body parts for their patients that are needed to be operated soon. Obviously, 3D printing means the immediate creation of the needed object, making it possible for all developers and designers to turn a 3D image on a flat screen into a real object. No wonder, that today almost everything «from aerospace components to toys» is getting created with the assistance of 3D printers.
Obviously, 3D printing technology will contribute not only to the medicine development and design but also to such industries as automotive, architecture , business and industrial equipment, consumer-product and education industries. 3D printing provides to the companies to save greatly on assembly costs, as the printer builds objects, or products, that are already assembled. Moreover, it's an opportunity for companies to make experiments and come up with new ideas about design, for instance, without spending a lot of time and money. In other words, it helps companies understand if the printed product is worth further investing and allocating additional financial resources.
Who knows, probably, 3D printing technology will challenge mass production method soon?
Anyway, they're already companies who try to get the best from 3D technology improving their production processes and final product. This is about Ford Motor Company.
“We really didn’t understand the potential of what the capabilities of this process were going to be. It’s incredible,” says Roy Raymer, Project Coordinator at Ford Motor Company.
The statement actually reflects the company's interest in the 3D printing technology. Nothing surprising, as they got interested in the new technology already in 1988 year. Therefore, for the last 20 years, the Ford Motor Company has printed more than 500,000 parts saving a fortune and millions of hours of work.
Just to compare: to produce a prototype, it would take about five months and cost about half a billion dollars when 3D printer allows producing the same prototype within a day or even hours with expenditures equal to a few thousand dollars. The 3D printing gives an opportunity to get the optimized and improved part by the end of the day. According to the Ford Motor Company, the prototypes are used in every part of the car, and they can serve for hundreds of thousands of miles. In another way, the Ford company gets a higher quality vehicle with fewer expenditures.
The Ford Motor Company believes that 3D printing technology can be used not only for printing prototypes. The idea is to equip dealer garages with 3D printing making repair process very easy and quick by printing replacement parts on their own. Moreover, Consumers can download modifications and get car accessories to their taste. The fact is that the Ford company has already used its 3D printers outside of the industry, printing mini race cars, replicas of dinosaur skeletons or a baby wooly mammoth.
Going back to the auto industry, it should be mentioned recent projects of Ford with the utilization of 3D printing technology. Thus, 3D printing was used for the Ford GTand the Mondeo Vignale. Moreover, Ford has established cooperation with Carbon3D in the United States. The main purpose of the abovementioned collaboration is to make research of «future rapid prototyping and small manufacturing program capabilities». Within this partnership, Ford and Carbon3D are developing 3D print resins that will be able to support high temperatures, loads, severe vibrations related to the car testing.
Obviously, 3D printing only contributes to the development and success of the company reducing costs of logistics and transport. However, the widely-used 3D printing technology for mass production doesn't work well, as in the context of a very large plant objects are printed at a slow speed, that may lead to fault lines that, in their turn, may crack under big stress and pressure.
There will be a solution to this, as a new printing method is being developed, which may bring the dream about the use of 3D printers for mass production closer. So far, it is unlikely that Carbon's printers that are about to be shipped to the company will be used on a large scale.
Summing everything up, it should be said that 3D printing is part of our future, as more and more industries are trying the best ways of 3D printing technology utilization.
Actually, a growing number of companies are going to adopt 3D printing technology to their supply chains. Moreover, according to the survey of 900 supply chain representatives, only 14% uses 3D printers, but 48% are expected to introduce and adopt the technology. Bases on some estimations 3-D printers global sales will reach almost $4 billion in 2017, up from about half a billion in 2012.
As it was mentioned above 3D printing technology can be applied to different industries. Thus, 3D printers fast earn new respect, indeed.
“What Is 3D Printing?” 2011. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.3ders.org/3d-printing.html.
“Building in the Automotive Sandbox.” 2015. Accessed April 29, 2016. https://corporate.ford.com/innovation/building-in-the-automotive-sandbox.html.
“3D Printing.” 2014. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://explainingthefuture.com/3dprinting.html.
“Ford Expands Use of 3D Printing in the Design Process.” November 26, 2016. Accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.carbodydesign.com/2015/11/ford-design-and-3d-printing/.
Chao, Loretta. “Auto Makers, Others Explore New Roles for 3-D Printing.” The Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2016. http://www.wsj.com/articles/auto-makers-others-explore-new-roles-for-3-d-printing-1461626635.