3D Printing – Uses, Users and the Hype

Introducing 3D Printing and its Users

3D printing encompasses several methods of layering and bonding to obtain the printed components. 3D printing is an additive process versus conventional manufacturing which is a mostly subtractive process. It involves manufacturing parts with complex geometries and shapes with minimum cost variation. The ideal 3D-printing method is based on material usage, accuracy of dimensions, surface finish, construction, mechanical properties, and bonding process. FDM (FFF) printing is the most demanded due to expired patents and the formation of the RepRap community.

Over the past decade, newer experimentations are colliding within the 3D printing field. Notwithstanding that it is an isolated technology separated from the automotive and aerospace industries. Currently it is existential in the realm of jewelry, architecture, medical, storage instruments, biotechnology and shop floor innovation. It is building its legacy on inherent usage derivative of daily item prototyping.

3D printing is ideal for rapid prototyping where modifications, editing and iterative changes. It is viable for sample production. Furthermore it allows adequate time-management or project scheduling. The Makers community are constantly considering robust methods to invent and personalize objects found in their daily routine. A good starting point is basic sketches which convey information swiftly, a model, CAD drawings, or succinct ideas.

Why does 3D printing and additive manufacturing matter?

Few fabrication technologies exist in isolation. Hammers, saws, and levels are all fundamental to carpentry work. Additive technologies should integrate with the rest of the manufacturing process and this takes time as people push possible limits. A macro example would be large industrial tools that combine metal deposition and five-axis CNC machining. (see ). Thus, a raw section is built up and moved across the machine and is precisely shaped or polished.

This repetitive hybrid 3d printing process is combined with deposited additive material on a partially milled part. Additionally, many additive processes in metal focus specifically on a ‘mesh’ shape with subtractive techniques generating the final precise geometry. Also, the two main 3D printing niche markets include on-site fabrication in remote locations, and printing materials not conventionally processed.

Trending 3D printing architecture.

Hype – How 3D Printing Started

It is important to keep a balanced outlook in the realm of 3d printing. With all the hype generated by the media especially when entering an innovative technological field. 3D Printing is based on inherent CNC technologies and implements knowledge systems of materials/processes based on Old World technologies. One also needs to be critical of how effective, viable or practical 3d printing can be in testing new ideas. To add an analytic lens should weigh in on ideas introduced to the realm of 3d printing. The background or context of a “Maker” will grasp this notion with comfort.

3D printing started in the 1980s when Charles Hull designed his first iteration of an FDM printer. The technology was unknown for years due to expired patents. Then the technology was taken up by the 3D-printing community and spread virally. The acceptance of it has reached a turning point as some look to integrate AM in their supply chain. It is now rapidly transforming into an industrial production technology.

An example of a more refined 3D printed cement wall used in a housing project.

DIY culture

One major category where 3D printing is excelling is in making things that make things – the DIY approach. Many assembly techniques involve jigs or fixtures holding work in precise locations along other operations. It also protects a production piece from securing to tools. Desktop plastic printers should grow in this environment and factories are integrating custom 3D-printed workplace tools for the required tasks. Volkswagen implemented this approach to significantly reduce tooling development costs and possibly time. Rapidly revised plastic parts vs. CNC-milled metal fixtures in response to operator feedback often improving ergonomics.

Additive techniques work well in low-volume and high-value operations. To name a few, steel inserts for plastic item mass production (drinking cups) and medical application silicone molds. This includes sand molds for solid metal patterns or printed with binder jetting. Here is also an excellent example of a minor 100 year old company in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. (see

Rome, Italy. A huge industrial 3D printer builds a building made of cement automatically without the help of workers. The 3D printer is guided by the computer program.

3D Printing Opportunities

3D printing also opens practical avenues in both academic and business environments. This CNC based technology constantly evolves. The tested project scope of every scenario reaches the scale of a every user in the Makers Community.

A key fundamental in the understanding of 3D printing is that its patents expired in the United States (FDM). With personalized plastic output has merged with the use of smartphones for self-portraiture in 3D-printed figurines of real people. Wedding cakes, to take just one example, can feature recognizable likenesses of the featured couple. The advantages extend beyond the creation of models. The production of final product parts occurs with the manipulation of the properties of plastics.

3D printing is now becoming popular among scientists, artists, medical professionals, and students. Scientists and students use the technology for building and analyzing models even for theoretical computations. Doctors can make use of damaged body models for historical growth patterns and contemporary trends, analysis and planning suitable procedures. Market researchers evaluate the audience’s opinions of novel products while artists use the models to advance their creativity.

Furthermore, mass customization for households, crafters, makers audience is currently evolving as a major prospect. This applies further for hearing aids and orthodontic applications. Two important markets relating to production parts where additive manufacturing produces complex shapes or short production runs of manufactured goods.

Makers are not the only ones using 3D printing to further advancements in every area of life. Companies adopt elements of 3D printing to create and optimize common products and services. Also, it is transforming many industries. For example, construction, design, education, engineering and educators/academics to re-think how to approach archetypal problem-based scenarios with conventional manufacturing methods.

Individuals and Companies

Individuals and businesses everywhere are experimenting and fulfilling their personalization requirements for their products in small production runs. Testing ideas via 3d printing is inexpensive without tooling development costs. Even utilizing its services fulfills the need of a cost-effective working prototype. The aspect of CAD design modifications found in modelling programs is relatively practical. With designed and/or prototyped objects, it would be tactfully unique to other marketed products found in the same range.  Additionally, this ‘iterative variation cycle’ is costly and time-consuming in the realm of injection molding. It requires extensive post-processing in order to achieve the required outcome.

Makers’ build an empirical understanding of 3d printing, methods, manners and processes, enhances their lives. Also to illustrate a typical Makers’ scenario would include transforming model information into a CAD model (i.e., a digital file). The first 3D print lets our clients test the design. The CAD file is continually adjusted to a sufficient version is provided. Consequently this process ends when the client is satisfied with the latest iteration.

Hype Cycle, credit Jeremy Kemp at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Future Projections

Aerospace and construction industries are intent on building IPO workflows to maintain design integrity from start to finish. The computer assisted fabrication of such parts maintains extreme reliability between computer design and final product thus reducing inconsistency. The urge to create and personalize some aspects of one’s material environment is well served by this technology.

Wohler’s Associates expects that the global market for 3D printing will touch the $35 billion range in 2024. 3D Printing Technology development and its varied applications to such a large market is analogous to the Internet’s advancement. People did not initially expect the Internet to be a platform for major business, education, and entertainment. Today, the information world is highly accessible.

This is possible due to the Internet making 3D printing universally and publicly accessible. It should follow the same method of public accessibility in future to attract a wider audience. The RepRap movement with the help of the Internet and collaborations started sharing 3D printing information. This rapid informal exchanging influenced about almost all major industries and the way we live and work.

Uses – Examples

An example is the luxury eyewear market which includes several merchants selling 3D-printed frames; one such company is Monoqool (see , headquartered near Copenhagen – Denmark, selling lightweight frames with screw-less hinges. In pharmaceuticals, Aprecia received FDA approval for its 3D-printed pill called Spritam. It is able to dissolve extremely fast when patients take it for epilepsy and related conditions. It is the first commercially available drug made via 3D printing. Spritam further raises the prospect of printed medicine in both personalized pills and easy counterfeiting.

A 3D printing restaurant in London called Food Ink (see is 3D printing menu items , cutlery and furniture. American Standard (see is selling high-end bathroom fixtures that are produced using additive manufacturing. The DVX line contains designs which are not made with conventional techniques.

The variety of these examples illustrates a few key concepts. Innovation is occurring in many fields, some (such as epilepsy medication) with great potential to improve human welfare. Also, the low price of desktop printers reduces the barrier to many forms of experimentation. It also connects a wider variety of people with tools that can realize their visions. Decentralizing the productive infrastructure helps move manufacturing closer to particular markets.

Hype – Combinations, Integrations and Improvements

A combination of robotic precision, computer graphics, algorithmic vetting and human experience is leading to many new possibilities. Old shapes can be made with less time and closer to the point of use as new shapes become possible. New materials i.e. metals, plastics, proteins, or concrete formulations can also be used after being ignored.

3D printers also integrates well with various industries, like aerospace, automobile, manufacturing, education, art and fashion, medical, and hobby. With open-source sharing of the designs and customization of each print, more and more industries are turning to 3D printing. It creates shorter design cycle times in prototyping and reduced manufacturing costs in such industries. With current development rates, one can only fathom the effect it will have on our lives in the near future.

There is however, room for improvement when it comes to customer markets. A price of R255 000.00 for a stunning bathroom faucet and Adidas runs a price risk. Also the Future craft shoe at R4 500.00. Build speed is also slower than desired in everything from aircraft part fabrication to the food at experimental restaurants. Learning to print more than one drug compound will take years.

These early attempts at broad markets does not address the true strengths of additive manufacturing. Innovative luxury eye-ware do not solve a real problem the way 3D-printed hearing aids do. What is the path from fast-dissolving pills to custom formulations? Will 3D-printed food at a trendy restaurant reduce food waste, help address malnutrition, or otherwise feed the hungry? There is much to learn and much that is overhype.

Additive manufacturing – market awareness. Data source: Google Trends.

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