3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing Technology Synopsis
The third industrial revolution that will support the designing of things economically, with more flexibility and, with relatively less labor and, in much smaller numbers is underway. Although it is a young technology, 3D printers also called additive manufacturing is already being applied in making specialist car parts as well as customized phone covers. Unlike the conventional machines that bash, bend and cut the material, 3D printers design things by depositing the material layer after layer (The Economist 2). During printing, the software takes the digital slices via the computer aided design and then sends the information to the 3Dprinter that adds thin layers till the object is formed. The difference between the conventional printer and the 3D printer is that material replaces ink.
While some 3D printers apply the inkjet process, others use powder as the printing medium. After depositing the material, the thin layer is then curled and exposed to ultraviolet light. On the other hand, the powder 3D printers work by melting the thin layer into the pattern requires using a laser through a process known as laser sintering. A range of materials can be printed using the 3D printers including metals, plastic, rubber and ceramics (The Economist 4). In fact, some printers are capable of combining materials in order to design an object that is rigid on one end and soft on the other. Empirically, researchers are using 3D printers in producing living tissues including muscles, skin, and blood vessels. It is believed that 3D printers will also be used in printing large parts of the body such as hearts, kidneys, and livers for transplanting.
Since in additive manufacturing there are no economies of scale, making items using the 3D printers changes the conventional manufacturing rules. This technology is ideal for both low and high volume producers as it allows for mass customization of even the finished parts. No need of one-off prototypes that are typically expensive in conventional manufacturing. Therefore, additive manufacturing brings down the cost of producing. Today, a lot of mechanical parts, architect’s models, shoes and consumer goods are easily made with 3Dprinters for appraisal by clients prior to being given the go-ahead (The Economist 3). Unlike in the conventional manufacturing where a new prototype takes weeks to be formed, changes to the original version are quickly reprinted with 3D printers. Additive manufacturing is allowing the designers to make things that were previously thought fat too sophisticated to produce economically.
As we speak, numerous companies are already using 3D printing technology in their production including GE, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, Google, and LUX excel. This is an indication that additive manufacturing is gradually becoming an excellent alternative to the conventional manufacturing. As the varieties of printable items increases, more companies are likely to adopt additive manufacturing (The Economist 2). The advantages of 3D printing include flexibility since every unit is made independently. It is easy to modify the item to meet the unique needs of the client or, broadly it accommodates the dynamic fashion and improvements. Furthermore, pieces that were previously molded separately and assembled later are now being produced in one run under additive manufacturing.
In summary, fundamental changes are expected in manufacturing industry. Fully automated, large quantity, and high speed additive systems that are cost effective even for standardized production will dominate the coming years (The Economist 5). Due to their flexibility, additive systems will be largely used for customization. Opportunistic business leaders are already redesigning their manufacturing systems in order to change the way in which products are made, sold and, packaged. This way, they will reap the benefits of additive manufacturing technology before anyone else does.
The Economist. London: Economist Newspaper, Apr 21st 2012. Print. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/21552901