The futuristic hype over 3D printing has outshined applications that are already transforming the manufacturing world. While the media speculates about 3D printed guns, organs and food, firms are using 3D printers to overcome a less ‘sexy’ challenge: replacement parts for aging production lines.
In a typical factory, unplanned downtime is extremely expensive. In a survey conducted by Nielsen Research, automotive executives reported that downtime cost an average of $22,000 per minute — some respondents put the figure as high $50,000 per minute. Not surprisingly, most manufacturers invest in predictive maintenance and aim to replace worn down parts before they cause a breakdown.
Industry is, of course, completely centered on supply and demand. And while there are many facets to manufacturing and business, few areas are as fast-paced or as fickle as the fashion industry. Our simple, and often (ironically) unattractive vanity promotes an entire economy based on greed and speed–as well as seeing who can replicate and wear Kate Middleton’s latest navy-blue dress fast enough.
Most often focusing on want rather than need, the ‘fast fashion’ industry encompasses the complete opposite of originality or creativity, as it’s about getting copies of quality and runway fashion into stores like H&M at breakneck speed. And up until recently not much care was given to the how of making these piles of clothes, but more so to the how fast. As the horrors of sweatshops have come to light in one sensationalized story after another, consumers–especially the younger ones–are becoming more discerning–and concerned. The millennial generation is making it more and more clear that they would rather look for alternatives instead of having the trendy clothes on their backs made by someone suffering overseas and being paid pennies, if anything at all.
Current advances in 3D printing are making it an integral part of manufacturing, including electronics manufacturing. It can cut down processes from weeks to days and costs from thousands to hundreds. The 3D printed option is not only more efficient and economical, but actually better in terms of performance, as well as carbon footprint.
“We make your factory run better” is the tagline for the maintenance services offered by ATS.
Printing out your meal may not sound appealing, but 3D technology could revolutionize food manufacturing. There could come a day in the near future when it’s a tablet to table kind of lunch.
It’s Friday night and you want a pizza, but instead of calling the local pizzeria for delivery, you just print out your dinner. Think that sounds a bit too farfetched? Think again.
Foodini from Natural Machines is a 3D printing kitchen appliance that makes pizza, pasta, breads and cookies. It assembles layers of fresh ingredients to take a complex process, like making ravioli, and simplifies the steps, as well as easing the kitchen clean up which is a big value-add.
Initially targeting professional chefs, Natural Machines’ co-founder Lynette Kucsma envisions a time in the near future when a 3D food printer will be a common kitchen appliance. Foodini, which is currently available in limited production with general availability in 2016, will cost about $1,500, according to the Natural Machines website. And, as competitors hit the market and prices start to plummet, a 3D printer could be a convenient way for consumers to make healthy meals on-the-go rather than turning to highly-processed foods packaged for the microwave.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has the potential to revolutionize the U.S. military’s logistics system. But numerous hurdles stand in the way of that dream becoming reality, experts said.
Unlike the traditional manufacturing process, which creates items by taking raw materials and subtracting from them by drilling or whittling, additive manufacturing takes digital data and creates 3D objects by stacking printed layers of raw materials.
Brennan Hogan, a program manager at LMI — a Virginia-based not-for-profit corporation that is consulting with the Defense Logistics Agency about the implications of 3D printing — said additive manufacturing provides an opportunity for “turning the supply chain on its head.”
In 2013 researchers at Princeton University created a “bionic ear” – capable of detecting frequencies a million times higher than a human’s hearing range, and manufactured by blending biological tissues with electronics via a 3D printer. First invented in 1984, 3D printing is now capable of producing human organs and limbs, NASA rocket engine parts, car chassis, entire five-storey concrete houses and more. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
The design world has cottoned on to the possibilities of 3D printing too, using it to create everything from crockery to lampshades, while watchmakers have used the precision it affords to create intricate mechanisms and entire watch cases. But while there is a clutch of jewellers championing this new technology, others are disparaging about its use.
A researcher at the service’s Weapons and Materials Directorate lays out a vision for additive printers on the battlefield.
If you go by the Hype Cycle — Gartner’s annual tech-buzz assessment — then consumer 3D printing is about to tumble from the “peak of inflated expectations” into the “trough of disillusionment,” part of the coming five- to 10-year slog to the practical applications that await atop the “plateau of productivity.” But Larry “L.J.” Holmes, the principal investigator for materials and technology development in additive manufacturing at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, (ARL) isn’t waiting around for that.
In a presentation last month at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance summit, Holmes sketched out a variety of potential uses for 3D printing for the military, ranging from intelligence to communications to terraforming the battlefield. Here are a few highlights.
Here, we look at the benefit of the still-developing technology for SMEs.
Earlier this week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the world’s first ever 3D-printed drug. Aside from being an astronomic breakthrough for the pharmaceutical industry, this news comes amid a flurry of similar stories; each demonstrating the growing potential and endless possibilities of 3D printing.
Upon its invention, 3D printing was limited in terms of its usability. Aside from architects building advanced 3D mock-ups, fashion designers producing radical new garment designs, and tech enthusiasts creating toys and other novelty bric-a-brac, the full potential of 3D printing took several months to materialise.
As the pharmaceutical industry shifts from mass manufacture towards personalised medicine, 3D printing could become part of the drug production line.
Imagine a paediatrician talking to a four-year-old child who is having trouble adjusting to taking daily doses of steroids after being diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy the previous month. “What’s your favourite animal?” she asks. “A zebra,” quietly replies the child, who we will call Sam. The paediatrician smiles as she makes a note on her office computer. “But not a black and white one, a blue and green one,” adds Sam, with a little more confidence. Later, the toddler watches with wide eyes as the uniquely coloured, zebra-like tablets appear from a three-dimensional (3D) printer in the hospital pharmacy.
Industrial 3-D printing is at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way. Most executives and many engineers don’t realize it, but this technology has moved well beyond prototyping, rapid tooling, trinkets, and toys. “Additive manufacturing” is creating durable and safe products for sale to real customers in moderate to large quantities.
The beginnings of the revolution show up in a 2014 PwC survey of more than 100 manufacturing companies. At the time of the survey, 11% had already switched to volume production of 3-D-printed parts or products. According to Gartner analysts, a technology is “mainstream” when it reaches an adoption level of 20%.