Following the initial, and almost inevitable, rash of printed plastic guns, 3D printing has emerged as a cost effective, flexible, and beneficial alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques. It currently has limited home uses, although it could prove very useful as a means of printing replacement parts and for DIY projects, but its use is already gaining traction within medical, engineering, architecture, and transport industries.
3D Printing In The Medical Industry
Considerable strides have been made in the medical industry with additive manufacturing. Prosthetic limbs, bones, and even donor organs have either been produced or are being researched. Researchers at universities across the world, including Rice University in the USA, are working on creating prosthetic meshes and combining these with human cells to create organs and limbs. Medical device manufacturers can also use the technology, while dental clinics can already create bridges and crowns on the fly and without having to wait for the manual manufacture of these items.
Architectural Modelling And 3D Printed Buildings
One of the challenges faced by architects is relaying their design ideas to clients. It can be very difficult for non-technical people to grasp a design concept, and even 3D software does not provide the kind of representation that a client wants to see. 3D models can be printed in production-grade thermoplastics and architects can paint the models for display or use them to further hone their designs.
Entire buildings have already been produced using additive manufacturing techniques, while some companies have started “printing” prefabricated building components and putting them together on site.
Cheap And Customisable Car Printing
Most people have seen 3D printed bikes online. They are considerably lighter than most road model bikes, parts can potentially be printed for very little and, eventually, customisable models will be available. However, it isn’t just bikes that are being printed in this way either. Although not yet as popular or common, 3D printed cars and even a 3D printed self-driving minibus have all been produced.
Safety issues will be the major concern, although considerable money is already being spent on researching technologies like driverless cars and alternative energy sources, and manufacturers like Ford are already 3D printing some parts for use in their product vehicles so the use of additive manufacturing within the automotive industry is upon us.
Transforming The Entertainment Industry
3D printing has been used in manufacturing and industry since the 1980s, and it has already seen use in blockbuster films. Improved techniques and technology, as well as more companies producing high quality 3D printing, means that yet more props and highly realistic models will be printed for use in the future. The advance of Virtual Reality in gaming means that 3D models will have another big budget industry to get its teeth into. Iron Man’s costumes were 3D printed.
Defence And Warfare
The initial fascination with home manufacturing guns and other weapons has died down, at least to some extent, but it has identified another possible use for additive manufacturing. As well as guns, the process has been used for creating prototypes, for creating drones, and for manufacturing items like gas masks.
With complaints over the quality of equipment handed to armed forces personnel, the affordability and availability offered could provide a viable means of meeting personnel requirements while also producing defence equipment on the fly.
Jewellery, Clothing, And Consumer Items
3D printing most commonly uses plastic polymer materials, but metal printing and printing with other materials is also becoming popular. Metal printing has been used in the aerospace industry, continues to advance, and has great potential for the future. It could also be used in the construction and printing of a greater range of consumer items.
3D printing has struggled to find a common consumer use to date, but printing replacement parts for electrical and consumer items as well as creating designs for DIY projects is one area where it is likely to advance. The use of metal and other materials that are naturally stronger than plastic and resin, will convert more individuals to 3D printing.
Affordable Space Exploration?
The International Space Station has already printed 3D tools, and this particular application shows off many of the benefits that additive manufacturing has to offer. Space aboard the ISS is severely limited, and any repairs, upgrades, or replacements need to be made on the fly and to specific specifications. While budget may not be an issue for global space exploration efforts, if it becomes possible to create more affordable rockets and other devices, then it is probable that more advancements and greater exploration efforts will be made.
NASA has successfully tested a full size 3D printed rocket. They said that the ability to quickly and inexpensively manufacture and test components and parts is invaluable to their efforts.
Websites like Best3DModel.com provide access to 3D models that can be used as the basis for printing plans and maps for home consumers, manufacturers, and other 3D printing professionals.