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03 Mar 2014

3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing

3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing

3D printing or additive printing as it is also known is the process of creating three dimensional objects of virtually any shape, from a digital model. The process involves layers of materials being successively laid down upon each other and then fused to create the final shape. 3D printing is clearly moving away from the ‘novelty’ stage, and becoming a valuable resource in manufacturing.

 

So what will this innovation in 3D printing technology mean for the future of the manufacturing industry?

In the competitive manufacturing industry product development and testing is essential, leading to a rise in rapid prototypes. 3D printing allows engineers and designers to imagine and create products in a number of hours with no wasted materials, allowing engineers to create and test developments at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing the parts traditionally. However when it comes to manufacturing a large amount of parts, 3D printing is not beneficial.

Advocates of 3D printing say that it will revolutionise the supply chain, potentially reducing costs to industries where a small number of production parts are required. Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric has predicted that, within 20 years, half of its range of products across energy, healthcare, transport and other sectors, will rely on 3D printing technology at some stage.

Prodrive, motorsport technology designers have already seen a transformation in the way they do business with the investment in a 3D printing machine. The company now creates its specialists parts via 3D printing which can be manufactured on demand, at less of a cost. In one of their car projects £80,000 was saved through using 3D printing.   

 

The Future of 3D Printing

3D printing companies such as Stratasys are creating a digital store where consumers can purchase the design file for a digital model, allowing consumers to print off high quality products with their own 3D printing device. Although 3D printers are expensive and not readily available for the everyday consumer, in the future this will not be the case and we could end up seeing a complete transformation in what people buy and what businesses sell. Businesses could go beyond having a physical store/factory and start to focus on more innovating products and developing better templates, which consumers could order, customise and print at home.   

Potential issues that are likely to arise from an increase in 3D printing are issues pertaining to Intellectual Property (IP) Laws.  For example in the UK, current IP legislation offers little protection to right holders, meaning that it would be easy to print an object omitting the trademarked element, as copyright is only applicable where an ‘artistic quality’ is present, and with the ease of just printing products from your own home plagiarism of intellectual property will be a big concern. 

 

Image copyright of Creative Tools

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