How 3D Technology is Used in Manufacturing

3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, and it has recently begun to enter the consumer markets as the price of the devices continues to drop. The impact on the consumer market is not so obvious right now, but in the manufacturing world, 3D printers have brought about some big changes. With this new technology, manufacturers have a whole new way to approach the process of design, prototype creation and, in some cases, production.

The state of the industry

3D printing has become a $6 billion industry, and it pervades many different types of markets. Also called “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing grew by over 17 percent in 2016 alone in global revenue. It is estimated that about 6.7 million 3D printers will ship in 2020. 3D printing has become very prevalent in industries such as machinery, automotive and aviation.

The rise of 3D printing is often cited as a major aspect of what is termed “industry 4.0” or “manufacturing 4.0.” This designation describes the new integration of technologies in manufacturing that include the internet of things, robotics, mixed reality, machine learning and 3D printing.

3D printing in design

For design tasks, 3D printers are a more sophisticated and flexible platform for experimentation, and they enable designers to produce more complex shapes than other prototyping methods were capable of with previous methods. 3D printers enable engineers to develop structures that are both lighter and stronger than any other previous designs. The device includes the entire assembly process, which reduces labor costs and production steps.

With fewer steps in assembly, there are fewer opportunities for errors. A more streamlined production process also reduces costs that are associated with multiple phases of operations such as quality assurance and inventory management. Engineers can upload their own CAD files that can be converted into physical prototypes in low-run volumes in only a few days.

3D printers also allow clients to become more involved in the design and customization process. Making adjustments during any phase of design and production is also quicker and more cost-effective with 3D printing machines.

Prototyping

3D printers allow prototypes to be created in much shorter time than with previous methods. When prototyping is streamlined, the entire product development cycle is much cheaper, and the product can get to the market in less time.

Prototypes used to be created with injection molding machines, which were analog processes. When a 3D printer is used, it’s not only much faster, but engineers can create several versions of a prototype for comparison. It has become the norm in manufacturing to have several different prototypes to evaluate before the production phase begins.

In the coming years, 3D printers will allow manufacturers to produce more parts at a greater ROI. Production lines that utilize 3D printers are easier to adjust, which provides a more adaptable process. Many more household products will soon be made by 3D printers in the near future.

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