3D printing is far from new—in fact, many industrial manufacturers have been utilizing the printing technology since the 1980s—so why after more than 30 years of availability is this technology suddenly gaining momentum by leaps and bounds not only for manufacturers, but also for entrepreneurs?
In large part, this growing fascination comes as a result of improvements made in recent 3D print technology. More than ever before, 3D printers are able to utilize an expanding range of materials, and are sophisticated enough that using the machines to create finished products, not just rough prototypes, is becoming a realistic expectation for manufacturers. In an article posted last year in The Economist, 20% of 3D printer output was cited as culminating in finished products, a statistic not only higher than ever before but also expected to increase up to 50% by 2020 (“The Printed World”).
But just what benefits does 3D printing really offer, and how will it affect the manufacturing ecosystem as a whole? Some have predicted the rise of 3D will negatively impact the systems put in place over the course of decades by members of the manufacturing community. Others have taken a slightly milder approach, anticipating what looks like less of a system overhaul and more closely resembling a complementary partnership of technologies working in step with more traditional manufacturing models.
What seems clear to almost everyone is that the effects of 3D printing are widespread and will touch many—from manufacturers, entrepreneurs and inventors, to the final end user. 3D printing takes a lot of guesswork out of the manufacturing of new products. Instead of having to produce in massive volume to save costs, smaller production may not only be possible, but actually preferable for reducing overall manufacturing costs. Likewise, it may make more sense to produce custom products closer to home, benefiting local manufacturers previously overlooked due to inexpensive manufacturing abroad.
Customers themselves will also benefit. Faster prototyping and production means innovative new products enter the market faster, pushing down costs as new products continue to challenge older models. Lower production costs could also mean less costly purchases for the end user when it comes time to buy.
Critics have cautioned that some 3D printers can still produce rough finishing or imprecise detailing (“More Design Hobbyists, Entrepreneurs Use 3D Printing” USA Today February 21, 2012), but these issues are typically found to be most prevalent in entry-level models. As technology continues to improve, more precise detailing and intricate designs will become the rule rather than an exception.
At KASO, we believe 3D printing can provide multiple benefits to our customers, which is why we will have added 3D printing to our Rapid Prototyping Services with the addition of a Fortus 250 3D printer coming in spring of 2012. Using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology, our new printing capabilities will be able provide some of the strongest prototype parts available today.
Learn more about KASO Plastics Rapid Prototyping Services.