It doesn’t seem that long ago that we got our 3D printer here at QAD, but here we are two years later, and 3D printing is still on top of everyone’s mind. In our office, the 3D printer still runs quite frequently. We’ve produced monitor stands (for those of us that stand at our desks), badge holders (as featured at QAD Explore), iPhone docks and much more. It’s incredible to live in an age where you can print out a product to satisfy a need without a trip to the store (or online store). If someone told me about this concept when I was a kid making birthday banners on my dot matrix printer, I would have said they were crazy!
Beyond 3D Printed Tchotchkes
Not to downplay the fun — and useful — gadgets and tchotchkes that we and so many others have printed on our personal 3D printers, but let’s take a look at some really innovative things happening in various manufacturing industries. We all know that anything is possible, but what is a current reality?
Life Sciences Manufacturing
When it comes to life sciences and the medical device manufacturing industry, it’s critical to be extremely cautious when introducing new technologies into the marketplace. You’re dealing with life and death, which is why it’s understandable to have endless 3D printing possibilities, but the products themselves take a while to come to market, like this silicone printed heart for example. One such exciting prospect is medical implants that are printed to perfectly fit the patient. The real breakthrough in this type of product is the printing material; instead of the rigid plastic we’re used to seeing, these devices are made out of a biological or silicone printing material. This produces soft material that can be made into impants, tubes, stents and more. Even though silicone is a material widely used now, using it in a 3D printing capability allows for extreme precision and customization for a particular patient’s physiology.
I recently came across an article that Ford is currently testing a 3D printer that takes a horizontal approach to building products. You may be asking yourself, “So what?” It turns out that there have been many challenges to printing tall items without a tall printer, so it only makes sense to lay it down for large scale printing. Apparently Boeing is also testing this technology for their large part printing. It’s one thing to just talk about what manufacturers can do, but quite another when you hear some of the top names in manufacturing investing so much in a new technology.
Food and Beverage Manufacturing
Nothing sounds more delicious than some freshly printed food, right? Well, we may not yet be at the food replicators of Star Trek, but food printing is a really happening. Various commercial kitchens and bakeries are already employing 3D printers to simplify what used to be time-consuming manual processes. Thinking about the detailed chocolate sculptures or intricate decor of cakes and pastries. Bakers are using 3D printers to easily create items that used to take years of practice and experience to do by hand.
Additive Manufacturing Now and in the Future
It’s amazing to think how far 3D printing has come in the last five years, imagine what we’ll be talking about — and even using on a daily basis — five years from now. Do you currently use a 3D printer for commercial or personal purposes? What are your thoughts on the future of additive manufacturing? I’d love to hear from you!