The history of 3D printing started with industrial prototyping principles to speed up the earliest stages of product development with a quick and straightforward way of producing prototypes. This saves time and money for the entire product development process and ensures confidence ahead of production tooling.
Prototyping is still probably the largest, even though sometimes overlooked, application of 3D printing today. Tooling and casting applications were developed utilizing the advantages of the different processes. Again, these applications are increasingly being used and adopted across industrial sectors.
Similarly, for final manufacturing operations, the improvements are continuing to facilitate uptake. In terms of the vertical industrial markets that are benefitting greatly from industrial 3D printing across all of these broad-spectrum applications, 3D printing is used in the following fields:
Medical and Dental
The medical sector is viewed as one of the early adopters of 3D printing and a sector with massive potential for growth due to the customization and personalization capabilities of the technologies.
In addition to making prototypes to support new product development for the medical and dental industries, the technologies are also utilized to make patterns for the downstream metal casting of dental crowns.
The technology is also used to manufacture both stock items, such as hip and knee implants. Besides that, it’s also used for patient-specific products, such as hearing aids, personalized prosthetics, and one-off implants for patients suffering from osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer, along with accident and trauma victims. Technology is also being developed for the 3D printing of skin, bone, tissue, pharmaceuticals, and even human organs. However, these technologies remain mostly decades away from commercialization.
As the medical sector, the aerospace sector was also an early adopter of 3D printing technologies in their earliest forms for product development and prototyping.
Process and materials development has seen many crucial applications developed for the aerospace sector — and some non-critical parts are already flying on aircraft.
High profile users include GE / Morris Technologies, Airbus / EADS, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, and Boeing. While most of these companies take a realistic approach in terms of what they are doing with the technologies, some do get quite an optimistic view of the future.
Another general early adopter of Rapid Prototyping technologies — the earliest incarnation of 3D printing — was the automotive sector. Many automotive companies — particularly at the cutting edge of motorsport and F1 — have followed a similar trajectory to the aerospace companies.
Many automotive companies are now also looking at the potential of 3D printing to fulfill after-sales functions in terms of production of spare/replacement parts on-demand rather than holding huge inventories.
The design and manufacturing process for jewellery has always required high levels of expertise and detailed production. It involves specific disciplines that include fabrication, mold-making, casting, electroplating, forging, silver/goldsmithing, stone-cutting, engraving, and polishing. Each of these disciplines has evolved over many years, and each requires technical knowledge when applied to jewellery manufacture.
For the jewellery sector, 3D printing has proved to be incredibly disruptive. From new design freedoms enabled by 3D CAD and 3D printing, through improving traditional processes for jewellery production, 3D printing has a tremendous impact on this sector.
Architectural models have long been a handy application of 3D printing processes for producing accurate demonstration models of an architect’s vision. 3D printing offers a relatively fast, easy, and economically viable method of making detailed models directly from 3D CAD or other digital data that architects use. Many successful architectural firms now commonly use 3D printing (in house or as a service) as a critical part of their workflow for increased innovation and improved communication.
More recently, some visionary architects are looking to 3D printing as a direct construction method.
3D printed accessories, including shoes, head-pieces, hats, and bags, have all made their way to the global market. And some even more visionary fashion designers have demonstrated the tech capabilities for haute couture — dresses, capes, full-length gowns, and even some underwear have debuted at different fashion venues around the world.
Iris van Herpen should get a special mention as the leading pioneer in this vein. She has produced several collections — modeled on the fashion shows of Paris and Milan — that incorporate 3D printing to blow up the ‘normal rules’ that no longer apply to fashion design.
Although a late-comer to the 3D printing party, food is one emerging application that is getting people very excited and has the potential to truly take the technology into the mainstream. 3D printing is emerging as a new way of preparing and presenting food.
Initial applications into 3D printing food were with chocolate and sugar, and these developments have continued with specific 3D printers hitting the market. Some other early experiments with food including the 3D printing of “meat” at the cellular protein level.
3D printing is also considered a complete food preparation method and a way of balancing nutrients comprehensively and healthily.
Source: 3D Printing Industry