Experts believe that 3D-printing may replace traditional manufacturing in the future. And that future is almost here. It involves the conversion of digital CAD files into actual, physical objects through layer-by-layer production, thus reducing the time of manufacturing and costs. While traditional manufacturing follows a subtractive process, additive manufacturing is just the opposite. By depositing one layer of material over another, it can create an entirely new object from its 3D digital representation.
Like other disruptive technologies, additive manufacturing faces numerous challenges in the manufacturing industry. One of these is the limitation of materials that regular 3D printers can print. The costs of the equipment are also higher than the traditional ones. Thirdly, not many people are aware of the endless benefits of this technology. Industry leaders are already taking on these challenges, trying to overcome those and unleash the immense potential of additive manufacturing. It will not be too soon if this sector manages to gain momentum in the latter half of 2021.
According to expert predictions and market surveys, the value of the global 3D printing industry is set to reach $10 billion by the end of this year. The pandemic has been the air under its wings by creating better opportunities for innovation. Tonnes of protective equipment, like PPE kits, respirators, and testing materials, were 3D-printed in the US alone. Europe and Australia followed the trend closely, using additive manufacturing processes to produce protective shields and medical supplies faster, without breaking the banks. Hence, it will not be wrong to say that the pandemic has been a boon in disguise for this futuristic technology. Manufacturers are more or less aware of 3D printing and its benefits today. They know that technology can revolutionize manufacturing in the coming days, offering time and cost advantages. No wonder leading organizations are trying to make the most of the technology to streamline supply chains and enhance mobilization!
What are the long-term benefits of 3D printing?
Besides manufacturing speed and cost reduction benefits, additive manufacturing offers immense design freedom to help engineers and manufacturers personalize the end objects according to their needs and preferences. Keeping the size and volume of the object within the limitations of the printer, you can create almost anything.
It is also easy to change the design and dimensions of the object digitally, before making alterations to the physical one. The technology is incredibly flexible regarding complex geometries that are impossible to achieve through traditional manufacturing. From individual parts to wholesome objects, additive manufacturing enables the production of complicated structures in several forms, colors, and dimensions. In the long-term, such flexibility can help make prototyping a cake-walk for the designers.
Another long-term benefit of additive manufacturing is the competitive edge it offers to individual manufacturers and the industry at large. More businesses have realized that 3D printing parts or entire objects can increase production speed by leaps and bounds. Designing, prototyping, manufacturing, and testing, all stages can be completed within days, unlike the week of strenuous work in traditional manufacturing processes. Coming to the quality of 3D printed objects, the technology ensures supreme standards, difficult to achieve otherwise. While injection and subtractive methods can result in poor quality, owing to little errors in the manufacturing processes, 3D printing minimizes such chances. As every object is printing layer-by-layer, there is consistency in density, volume, and dimensions. As the process is automated, it is invariably less labor-intensive and risk-free. Additive manufacturing also involves lesser transport of material parts across countries (sometimes, continents), leading to lesser environmental impact.
Industry leaders using 3D printing big time
From small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, additive manufacturing technology is disrupting every sector today. Some of these companies are using AM to streamline supply chain management and enhance innovation. They are also doing it to set an example for others to follow. However, most small businesses are using additive manufacturing technology to reduce the time and costs of manufacturing. Let us now give you a list of companies pioneering the use of additive manufacturing at present.
The Volkswagen Group
In the automotive sector, Volkswagen Group is undoubtedly an industry leader. Bentley, Audi, Ducati, Porsche, Lamborghini, and several other renowned automotive companies fall into the group. Its 3D printing sector in Germany is concerned with the production of parts using additive manufacturing technology. It started by using the regular 3D desktop printers to produce tooling equipment in Portugal and later expanded the 3D-printing endeavors into a full-fledged center in Wolfsburg. Today, almost all its tools are 3D-printed, along with replacement parts, exhaust finishers, etc. The Volkswagen Group is also upping its metal 3d printing ventures through increased collaboration and innovation.
A leader in the energy sector, Equinor is concerned with renewable and non-renewable energy development. Currently, it uses AM (Additive Manufacturing) to create prototypes of a series of components and produce spare parts. As the manufacture of some spare parts takes a lot of time and effort, 3D printing is easing all that. It ensures development within tight deadlines without compromising quality. By centralizing spare parts production, the company can meet its needs immediately. For example, the cooling fan of an electric motor can be 3D-printed, thus making replacements hassle-free. Further, the organization also believes that increased use of the AM technology will replace physical inventories with digital ones.
Apart from hard-core manufacturers and supply chains, consumer products’ companies, like L’Oreal, use the technology extensively. It has realized the changes in consumer behavior and expectations and using this futuristic technology to launch new products faster. However, L’Oreal is one of those industry pioneers 3D-printing for over two decades in package prototyping and other additional but significant applications. Recently, it has been speeding up production through directly 3D-printing packaging, functional prototypes, spare parts production, etc. About 25 of its global production centers are facilitating AM technology, including metal 3D printing and polymer.
The aerospace industry leader is another pioneer of AM, especially in prototyping. Only recently it has focused on large-scale parts production using the technology. The innovation cell of Airbus, established in 2010, was concerned with the experimentation and practice of disruptive technologies, like additive manufacturing, after analyzing their significance. By 2015, it introduced and promoted AM in industrial processes by manufacturing important components, spare parts, etc. It set an example for the entire aerospace sector that realized the significance of 3D-printing and made developments to that end.
It is a leading manufacturer of medical devices in the world. From printing models to prototyping, Medtronic went the extra mile to utilize the technology in the healthcare sector. Its 3D printing platform, TiONIC technology, is concerned with further innovation and development in the additive manufacturing sector. Aiming to develop more complex objects and surface technologies using the advancements in 3D-printing, Medtronic has already made successful developments in this field.
Can startups benefit from 3D printing?
Not only enterprises with expensive innovation centers in various parts of the globe, but startups can also benefit from the additive manufacturing technology. One of its biggest advantages is the production of spare parts or replacement components that may be difficult to find otherwise. The process is way cost-effective than traditional manufacturing processes and also less time-consuming. The startups may also create functional prototypes and complex geometrics with AM without breaking banks or missing deadlines. Design customization is yet another advantage of 3D-printing for startups. Exact replicas of different tools and manufacturing equipment can be personalized and 3D-printed within a few days, even hours, sometimes. Unlike traditional processes, single pieces can be produced using regular printers as and when necessary.
The Future of 3D printing – When can it lead us?
The technology has an incredible future in the hands of manufacturers, developers, and innovators. By overcoming the limitations of regular 3D-printers and materials, 3D-printing technology can revolutionize the entire manufacturing sector. Advancements in the field of metal 3D-printing can take several industries, like jewelry, consumer products, aerospace, automobile, and construction, by storm. More complicated products will be 3D-printed in the future, including spacecraft and satellites. Even the parts of new-generation cars can be 3D printed, taking costs of manufacturing down to a bare minimum. If the experts are not wrong, 3D printing is set to take control over the entire manufacturing industry, disrupting it and taking it to an entirely new level. Even in the healthcare sector, AM can create lasting examples of its potential through the production of 3D models, advanced medical devices, equipment, dental materials, and so on. Food packaging can take a new turn inside 3D printers. Sustainable packaging is already a trend in the modern world, and AM technology can enhance it further. This apart, AM will help digitize manufacturing, as it is based on virtual designing, conceptualization, and prototyping.
How Additive Accelerator can help
The experts at Additive Accelerator have an excellent knowledge base to counsel companies into using the technology for their benefit. Add to it their practical experience, and you get a go-to team for all your 3D-printing queries. We can help business owners realize the impressive potential of the technology and pick the right AM solutions to further growth and development. From leading manufacturers to small-scale production units, everyone can refer to the experts at Additive Accelerator for tried-and-tested solutions. We go the extra mile to help owners/operators overcome the initial challenges and embark on a journey towards technological evolution. If you are planning to utilize the futuristic technology to further business development, get in touch with the Additive Accelerator team to resolve queries, understand nuances of the technology, and choose the right solution.