With the rapid growth of 3d printing and rapid prototyping, the prices of machines are coming down significantly while our production capabilities are improving. The insiders of the industry term it as additive manufacturing to distinguish it from traditional, ‘subtractive’ manufacturing techniques which discard unwanted materials through drilling, cutting or other such techniques. It has been estimated that the rapidly growing industry of rapid prototyping and 3d printing now stands at a sum of three billion dollars.
The core economics of rapid prototyping technology offer ample opportunities not only in the field of manufacturing of products, but also in their retail. Heavy duty production sectors such as aerospace, shipbuilding, healthcare and automobiles are reaping the benefits of rapid prototyping due to this reason. In this post, we explore the opportunities that the technology has to offer to mankind.
First and foremost, the crucial economic issue behind rapid prototyping and 3d printing is the price per unit. Even though the unit price of production happens to be higher than traditional manufacturing methods, the cost of tooling can be eliminated entirely. Hence, with zero tooling cost, larger production runs can enjoy lower cost per unit when the assembly line involves 3d printing. Traditional processes, even though cost less per produced unit, have high cost of tooling up front. Hence it becomes expensive for smaller production volumes. The time of producing a 3d printed object is relatively shorter than the tooling process, even though actual production time per unit is longer than other methods of manufacture. This characteristic can be used to the advantage of today’s industrial production plants to speed up production and cut down tooling cost.
The following uses of 3d printing have been proven as economically viable and time saving:
The first ever big application of 3d printing was in the field of rapid prototyping. While in the past, custom prototype production would often take more than a month, 3d printing enabled designers to obtain a prototype in just a few hours. Even though this image is the most popular one in the minds of the people, 3d printing has flourished beyond rapid prototyping in the current market.
Fixtures and Jigs
The next biggest area of growth of the technology is jigs and fixtures. Skilled workers in most factories prepare tools that are capable of holding a part, or a tool that will be operational on the part. This construction of fixtures or jigs takes intricate precision and great attention to detail, as a result, there has to be many instances of trial and error. Errors in the jig will be further replicated in the end product. Hence, in order to facilitate all the iterations of trial runs, it is easier and faster to have the jigs and fixtures 3d printed.
Short runs of production
It is a general category in which there is a prototype of a particular example of the product. When the market of the product is limited and requires less number of volumes to be produced, expensive tooling is not always the way to go to make profits out of production. For these cases, 3d printing is an ideal and feasible solution. This method also makes more sense when there is no certain information about the kind of demand the product will have. Instead of spending the money for tooling, businesses can make a few rapid prototypes using 3d printers for testing purposes in the market. Also, 3d printing is excellent for preparing end of product life parts for replacement. There are really old cars that can be made fully functional if there had just been a 3d printed part as a replacement of an old, damaged part. This helps in three ways- increasing the reputation of the manufacturer, providing quality service to old customers by servicing the old units and increasing sales in the current market years after product release.
Customization for the Masses
The ultimate form of the small production run is making a customized product for just one client. Thanks to 3d printing, there remains ample scope to customize products according to the wish of the clients. Normally, a company that makes customized ear buds uses this technology. Each pair of ear buds is custom made for the individual customers. Another amazing example in the education sector is the plastic brains created by University of Florida so that young doctors can practice surgery on them. Using the most sophisticated new technologies in 3D printing, manufacturers can vary the material density and create a very genuine feel of a real brain tissue under the surgeon’s scalpel. The future of this technology demands that the prototype brain will be made from actual scans from patients’ brain, complete with tumors and other problems at the exact location.
As one can see, this technology is virtually limitless in its potential and its benefit to our overall society. Hence, its not wonder why so many investors, leaders and educators are so excited about it. It’s really just a matter of time until this technology’s true potential will be realized.
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