3D printing is the process in which we construct a 3D object from a digital 3D model. In this, the materials are solidified, joined, or deposited for creating a three-dimensional model, and this entire process is controlled by computers. The materials are typically added layer after layer for obtaining complex structures. Earlier, 3D printing was used for only creating aesthetic or functional prototypes. Now, it has vast applications and is used on a larger scale. It is hard to construct certain complex geometries or shapes by hand, but it is possible with the help of 3D printing. There are several 3D printing processes, and the most common one is called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM).
Earlier 3D printing was not that popular and not even commercialized. Nowadays, it is gaining popularity and is getting adopted on a larger, industrial and commercial scale. It is cost-effective, easy to access, and a lot more convenient than the traditional production mechanism. The internet was also not that popular before and treated as a disruption, but look where it is now. Starting from booking a cab, shopping, or connecting with friends, our entire life depends on the internet.
Internet’s first workable prototype came into action in the late 1960s. The prototype was named ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). It used packet switching that enabled the communication of several computers on a single network. From that day to this, it has come a long way. We are currently living in an age where the world can’t run a single day without the internet. It has impacted our lives immensely. Internet and the way we perceive it has evolved over years.
The democratization of 3D printing
3D printing was first recorded in 1981 by a Japanese inventor named Hideo Kodama. The product created by him used UV lights for hardening the polymers and for creating solid objects. Later, a process called stereolithography was invented by Charles Hull. This process created objects in smaller versions. These objects were then tested before proceeding to create them in actual size. The printing is done layer by layer. Rinsing is done with a solvent, and UV light is used for hardening. This process involves the use of CAD (computer-aided designs) for creating the 3D models. A more advanced process of 3D printing, called SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), uses polymeric powder and additive manufacturing for creating objects. This process uses a laser for fusing the powder. This process can create relatively more complex shapes than SLA. Today the most common form of 3D printing is known as FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling). Scott Crump developed this process. In this process, a cable of thermoplastic is heated to form a liquid, which is then extruded layer by layer. 3D printing has evolved over the last thirty years. It has become an important tool that helps us create a lot of complex objects.
How Accessible is 3D Printing Today?
Earlier 3D printing was not much accessible, but now it is. With time it is becoming more and more accessible. 3D printers are being developed at a rapid rate of excellent qualities and affordable ranges. This makes it accessible to a much wider audience. Within a few years, we can expect that every small and large company will incorporate 3D printers in their system. Now, let us talk about the present 3D printing market. This market can be divided into three divisions; the high segment, middle segment, and the low segment. Hobby printers (low segment printers) are ideal for home use since they lack a closed casing and are environment-sensitive.
The middle segment printers are well developed and can perform many functions. These are easy to use, and the supplied software converts the 3D models into printable files. Close-cased printers with an open filament system can perform several tasks. The high segment printers are costly and are usually used by large companies. The idea of owning a 3D printer is fascinating, but we need to evaluate whether or not is it truly worth the investment. The 3D printers mainly have three applications – prototyping, small series production, and new shapes creation.
3D printers are used by a lot of companies for making prototypes. This helps to save a lot of time. We no longer need to wait for creating scale models. We can print them ourselves at our convenience and save lots of time.
3D printers have proved immensely profitable in the case of producing objects on a small scale. The traditional methods for producing a low number of products can be very expensive. If we print them ourselves, it will save us both time and money.
There are certain limitations in creating new shapes using the traditional ways. 3D printers are effective in creating new and complex shapes. They can also create hollow structures. The limitations of 3D printers are much lesser than the traditional ways of production.
Challenges Faced in the Large-scale Adoption of the 3D Printers and How They are Addressed
Low-volume production, material efficiency, and design flexibility are the major reasons that made companies incorporate 3D printers in their system. But some certain challenges and limitations need to be tackled.
Low Production Speed
Speed is an important factor for large-scale productions. The 3D printers lag behind the traditional production mechanisms, in terms of efficiency and speed. This is the reason some companies have not yet adopted 3D printers.
The majority of the 3D printer manufacturers are working towards making these printers faster. Some manufacturers have developed certain modular systems for increasing throughput. EOS, a German Hardware manufacturer, is working on accelerating the printing time. 2 co2 lasers are used in the present SLS systems, whereas the new printers are going to incorporate one million diode lasers. This will aid in a faster printing rate. The Aurora lab in Australia uses a powder bed fusion process known as the MCP (Multilevel Concurrent Printing). This enabled a faster metal 3D printing rate.
Not Having Enough Materials
3D printers have made creating complex and new structures very simple. But this requires a lot of material options which are not always available. Unlike traditional production methods, 3D printing has not undergone material development for long. Earlier, prototyping was the main focus of 3D printing and so material properties were often overlooked.
Nowadays, manufacturers are working towards developing a variety of materials with a wide range of properties.
The products manufactured by 3D printing require post-processing. Post-processing helps to improve the aesthetics, accuracy, and mechanical properties of a part. This is not a serious issue for prototyping, but for automating, scaling, and end-part manufacturing process, post-processing becomes a key limitation.
A lot of manufacturers are working towards automating the post-processing techniques. Companies are now implementing robotic solutions for eliminating part handling and material switchover. Last year Digital Metal, a 3D printer manufacturer, launched a fully automated production concept.
Design and Data Interpretation
3D printing might look easy, but it is not the case. A lot of emphases is put on the production of hardware systems, but it lacks in the fields of data interpretation and design.
Nowadays manufacturers are working on developing the printing preparation and AM design. There is still a lot of work left to be done.
Lack of Expertise and Understanding
Although 3D printing is something we all have heard of, there is a lack of professionals, who understand the science behind it. Therefore only a few people can work with these printers.
Nowadays people are being educated about 3D printers on a larger-scale. This will solve the problem of not having enough technicians. We can hope to have an increased number of qualified technicians in the future.
The Initial Investment
The greatest challenge is the amount of investment required to put Additive Manufacturing on our production floors. The initial investment not just involves buying the equipment, but we also need to invest in the whole additive manu8facturing ecosystem. This involves everything like post-processing equipment, employee training, materials, software, etc.
For this reason, manufacturers are working on producing affordable 3D printers so that they can be opted for by more people.
Proper digital infrastructure is needed to enable the successful use of 3D printing in companies. Many companies are using IT solutions to create such an infrastructure. A lot of these solutions go well with the traditional manufacturing set-up and not with the 3D printing work-flow. Because of this workflow management software is being developed for 3D printing. This software manages the whole workflow. Having a centralized monitoring system helps the company to keep a track of all the ongoing projects. This offers better traceability.
What is the Role of Additive Accelerator in This?
Additive manufacturing came into action long back, but it is being adopted on a larger scale only recently. Every industry is revolutionizing its manufacture by undertaking additive manufacturing. Our experts help to identify profitable, transferable, and scalable 3D printing applications.
We help our clients to realize and build their strategy of 3D printing. We make sure to provide effective solutions to any problem by evaluating every single step. We also provide modular manufacturing systems for maximizing profit.
Additive Accelerator is the one-step solution regarding anything related to 3D printing because:
- we provide prompt support.
- we provide rapid trouble-shooting.
- we have a streamlined workflow.
- our experts have years of experience.
Get in touch with us to find the best and most scalable 3D printing solution for your business.