Not too long, the idea of a 3D printer seemed like a pipe dream. Printers were served for putting ink on flat pieces of paper, not producing physical, three-dimensional objects.
But today, 3D printers have revolutionized modern manufacturing technologies. As a result, there’s no limit to what someone can create using a 3D printer.
And the benefits of using a machine to create an individual prototype of a product, rather than having to create custom molds, have the potential to save businesses many thousands of dollars, as well as months of time.
But is 3D printing considered a manufacturing process? Or is this new technology reserved for hobbyists and tinkerers? Keep reading to learn all about 3D printing in manufacturing today.
What Is 3D Printing?
First off, what exactly are 3D printers? It’s the process of using a specialized “printer” to release materials, layer by layer, to produce a three-dimensional product.
It’s an additive process where the material is continually added until the particular design is complete. Unfortunately, much of manufacturing is actually a subtractive process. It starts with a larger object, and machines cut it down into the size and shape it needs to be, leading to material wastage.
The machine uses liquified metal or plastic to create the final product. And it doesn’t do so automatically, using files generated by specialized design software.
So you can design a product on a computer, send that design file to a 3D printer, and watch as it produces that physical object in real-time.
And yes, calling it a printer is accurate. Layers of material are added on top of the existing object, like an ink printer adds a layer of ink onto a piece of paper.
The 3D Printing Market
You may be surprised to learn that the first 3D printer was designed and used in the 1980s. While not as advanced as modern machines, they could still create three-dimensional product prototypes.
However, these machines were large and expensive, leaving them to be used exclusively by the largest manufacturers.
Today, professional-grade 3D printers can be had for a few thousand dollars, allowing most small to medium-sized businesses to invest in this new technology.
Individuals aren’t left out, either. While many who love to tinker find a way to modify a standard printer to work as a 3D printer, most hobbyists will spend a few hundred dollars to get a small basic 3D printer.
The current market is very wide, and there are many different options available depending on budget, desired materials, size of the final product, and level of detail necessary.
3D Printing for Rapid Prototyping
In the past, creating a product prototype was costly and time-consuming. Traditional manufacturers needed to create custom molds, which is very expensive.
Then they need to use those to create prototypes, which isn’t very efficient. If the design wasn’t perfect, they had to create brand new molds and start over.
Then 3D printers hit the scene, allowing for rapid prototyping. With these machines, you can create a prototype very fast. No molds and expensive dies are required.
If the design isn’t perfect, just adjust your design file and try again until you get it right. This process saves so much time and money. Plus, it gives product designers freedom to experiment and try new ideas since doing so is very affordable and has low consequences.
For many years, 3D printing was used strictly for creating product prototypes like this. Getting the design perfect using a 3D printer saves a lot of money, ensuring you don’t manufacture a part or product that doesn’t work properly. They could then take that design and have it mass-manufactured on a traditional production line.
Is 3D Printing a Form of Manufacturing?
Today, 3D printing isn’t limited to just creating prototypes. Instead, it is its form of manufacturing.
While it is still used widely for product prototypes, many smaller manufacturers use 3D printers as additive manufacturing. Check out what types of industries benefit from this manufacturing process here; https://www.rapidpsi.com/additive-manufacturing-3d-printing.
By using an additive process for manufacturing, you can save a lot of money on material wastage. Plus, the energy used to power 3D printers is a lot less than traditional manufacturing equipment. These factors will multiply your savings over time.
Depending on the product or component you are printing, you may even be able to print multiple at one time, using an efficient design file. This further saves on material and time.
How Additive Manufacturing Technologies Win
3D printing is the future of manufacturing. So many small to medium-sized businesses struggle to produce products because using a traditional manufacturer requires such high volume orders.
But with 3D printing, you can manufacture one product if you want, or 10, or 1,000. The printing process can scale up or down as needed, and there is no minimum order quantity to use this process.
So this helps smaller businesses compete against large-scale manufacturers.
Plus, quality control is easier to manage with a more straightforward manufacturing process. This will let you ensure you are truly creating the best products rather than trusting a manufacturer halfway around the world.
Just In Time Manufacturing
This concept was unthinkable in the past. But today, you can operate on a just-in-time manufacturing model.
Rather than stocking your warehouse full of inventory and sitting on potential liability, you can just stock your components virtually. Offer your products for sale, and when a customer purchases one, you have it printed on the 3D printer.
All you have to do is have proven design files, working printers, and enough material on hand to produce your products. Then, save space, save money on inventory, and run a lean, profitable operation.
3D Printing Levels the Playing Field
3D printing is one of the most advanced manufacturing technologies ever created. It has radically changed how we think about creating product prototypes and how we manufacture products on a large-scale basis.
Suddenly, small producers have an opportunity to compete in the global marketplace without sacrificing profit margins.
Looking to learn more about the latest technology to help your business grow? Make sure you check out the rest of our blog to keep reading.