It can be said without a hitch that 3D printing has taken the world by storm and is in a position to drastically change the place we live in. Although it is not a new method and has stood around for more than three decades, it is the new technology overtures and mark downs on the price which has caught everyone’s attention. Everyday more technologies are being matured and everyday more buyers are entering the market, supporting and funding the developments. By the next few decades, the rapid prototyping market is estimated to reach almost $20 billion.
3D Printing Processes:
The major technologies and developments were invented around 3 decades ago by two huge companies and they are still ruling the rapid prototyping market with their three processes. The first, known as fused deposition modeling (FDM), which utilizes a thermoplastic thread, heats up, then projects one layer at time until a three dimensional form takes place. This particular process is slow and is used for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA) types of materials. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is the second process, where small particles of ceramic glass, plastic, and metals are run together using heat from a laser to form a solid 3D object. This process is faster than the first, FDM, and is supported by more materials, such as polymers and polystyrene.
The third method, called stereolithography (SLA) hardens and cures liquid plastic to give it a three dimensional form. It is faster than FDM, and works with photopolymer materials. Even though all the above three processes are somewhat mature, they lack in speed. From large manufacturing companies to consumer good companies this has been an issue for those who are interested in rapid prototyping. For FDM technology, the rapid prototyping speed is around 50-150mm per hour, while with SLS it is up to 48mm per hour and for SLA 14mm per hour. With such speeds, the prospect of being replaced with other machines in a factory is not being met.
Despite all these, the prospect for additive printing is developing fast. Companies are starting to trust in CLIP, Continuous Liquid Interface Process, which practices photo-polymerization in order to form a uniform solid object of many shapes and sizes to boost preciseness of the process. Even though 3D printing is being widely adopted, using a CAD file makes the process a whole lot smoother, with less cost and not to mention, there is no need for different molds and tools for the design revision, which again makes the process faster.
3D Printing in the Business Sector:
This is how businesses, be it consumer goods or product manufacturing have been using 3D printing to drive their competition-
3D printers are easy to setup and they can store digital print. Because of this, businesses that work in isolated locations and need on-demand manufacturing insist on using 3D printing. It is often the case that work in isolated locations require the fixing of machinery, but delivering to such places take a long time. With a 3D printer it will be possible to print out spare parts of machinery which will save time and will also cut costs for inventory and storage of raw materials.
Instead of storing up on spare parts in case of emergencies, 3D printers can print them out when required- this minimizes production costs and warehouse bills altogether. Additionally, manufacturers can only produce on demand with an already existing simplified supply chain.
Unlike conventional injection molding, rapid prototyping allows and supports complex geometry. Therefore, parts are being merged to create new products. Companies are developing design software to provide design increment for additive printing to bring about advantages that are only attainable by rapid prototyping. With this, automotive industry and aerospace has been analyzing ways to merge parts to minimize cost and complication of assembly as well as minimize weight and energy bills by working with less dense materials and putting more heat in the dissipation.
One of the biggest approaches in rapid prototyping has been taken by the medical division. Up to now, 3D printed organs, medical instruments, prosthetics, and amputees have been seen. Products like Invisalign (clear braces) would not be possible without the technology of 3D printing. Also, 3D printed mini sized biological robots possess the skill and proficiency to crawl through the bodies in order to repair targeted organs or to discharge medicines. Nano-robot composed of DNA strands printed at Harvard University have the ability of dispensing antibodies when they meet cancer cells. With all these innovations and the help of 3D printing, the medical and science industries are likely to transform.
Even with all these possibilities, 3D printing has its setbacks, such as price, speed and legal responsibility, but with that aside, it also possess infinite possibilities which will keep opening new doors to new applications and industries.
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