IoT or Internet of Things is a fascinating technology nowadays and is used in almost every part of our lives. Smart applications, smart security systems, smart home, you name it, IoT has it. We are connecting every device and appliance we can with the internet to create intelligent devices that will make our lives easier. And,combining 3D printing or additive manufacturing with IoT has the potential to make smart devices that will be more efficient and more agile to work.

What is IoT

The Internet of Things is about connecting the power of the internet with different devices beyond smartphones and computers to create seamless interfaces that will make our lives better. They work by sharing data with each other; this shared data can come from human behaviors and usage patterns.

For example, a smart lock. When it detects you are going out of your house, it automatically locks the house, turns off the electrical connections and makes your home secure. And when it detects you’re coming home, it turns up the ac to cool your home in advance.

These kinds of technology are used everywhere, nowadays. From self-driving cars to smart drones, and it will increase more in the coming years.

Many industries have expanded in the 20th-century, but they all suffered in one aspect, connectivity. Now, with the expansion in IoT, connectivity problems are becoming obsolete.  It’s projected that IoT connected devices will be around 74.44 billion worldwide by 2025.

Combine 3D Printing with IoT

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional objects from a digital design. 3D printing helps to create complex designs using fewer material sand components more efficiently.

It seems that 3D printing is everywhere; from custom-made enclosures to a fuel injection system for jets to professional sport helmets. The point is,there are ever growing opportunities for manufacturing with 3D printing. According to MarketsandMarkets.com, the 3D printing technology industry will reach approximately $35 billion within 2024. If you compare this to other market research, we see similar data which suggest the 3D Printing industry is poised for 23-26% CAGR through 2024.

3D printing only becomes more useful and intuitive when combined with the Internet of Things. During the past couple of years, engineers have started to adopt 3D printing technologies in manufacturing IoT devices.

The benefit of using 3D printing in IoT is to have flexibility in developing different models in different scales, materials, specifications, and quantity. Those just being a sample of the major driving factors for combining 3D printing with IoT.

Here are the four cases where 3D printing and IoT can work together smartly.

3D Printed IoT Device Enclosure

IoT devices are electronic devices. These devices need to sit on a well-structured, safe enclosure. 3D printers can make these enclosures with great detail and perfect fit. The prototyping process of developing any IoT device also involves 3D printing.

For example, in a smart AC, there is little room for the electronics to fit. So it requires a careful custom design to provide all the components into an enclosure such that 3D printing can help in creating the perfectly fitted enclosures.

Another benefit of a 3D printer in IoT devices is that you can play around with the designs of enclosures. You can include specific designs such as snap fits or other efficient locking mechanisms, which will make the assembling process easier.

Create Custom Made Product

IoT collects a lot of data. Incredible products are built with the help of this data. Combining 3D printing with data can be a huge help in making these products.

With 3D printing technologies, the opportunities are endless, with thousands of design customization and low-cost prototyping.

IoT technologies can collect data and provide behavioral patterns of the connected devices. With 3D printers, these devices can easily be modified for better efficiency and implementation into IoT connected products.

For instance, there is growing interest in customized shoes that not only fit more uniquely to the wearer, but also inform them about the effectiveness of their performance. This information may not be exclusive to the wearer either, it may also be shared with the shoe company to help them improve their products or create an engaging relationship more directly with this customer. Car manufacturers and tire developers are looking at similar applications which can improve tire design with the help of data collected by cars.

The same is done in the sports industry. Data on how a player behaves when hitting the ball or racket are collected and based on that data, allowing for custom-made rackets or bats that can be manufactured to boost performance or alternatively specialized coaching techniques can be provided to the athletes.

3D printing technology is fantastic when it comes to creating custom-made products. When combined with IoT, the possibilities seem endless.

3D Print IoT Device Without Electronics

As technology is evolving day by day, it is becoming easier to build systems without electronics, such as circuit boards and conductive inks.

These technologies have enormous benefits. It can simplify the design because you don’t have to consider the space of electric wires. Instead, you can speed up the manufacturing of circuit boards. Also, it removes the limitation of 2D circuit boards, which restricts the shape of the design. 3D circuit boards can be manufactured in different shapes and give the flexibility to build different products.

Another key benefit of 3D printing is that it gives full freedom to create lightweight devices where in sectors like aviation, healthcare, and military – these lightweight devices makes a huge impact.

Also, plastic circuit boards are on the rise. It is said that plastic circuit boards are going to replace silicon circuit boards by 2030. And these circuit boards are comparatively cheap. A piece of lithography equipment for high volume semiconductor manufacturing costs around  $5M to $50M, but when a 3D printer manufactures electronics, it goes down to $500,000. This represents opportunity for significant reductions in cost.

Efficient Factory Operations (Future Factories)

Factories need to combine multiple 3D printer technologies to crank up the efficiency of the factory.

We can take the example of Audi. They are doing precisely the same in their smart factory. They are transforming their manufacturing process with the help of IoT, additive manufacturing, robotics, and drones.

You can increase the efficiency of the factory by combining IoT and 3D printing technology to automate some repetitive tasks. For example, if there is a spare part that has a bulk requirement, you can feed the design to the printer and order the printer to produce spare parts nonstop.

Combining IoT and 3D printing has unlimited potential, and not every use case has been discovered yet. But as the technology matures with time, it will revolutionize the IoT industry without a doubt.