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What can you make with a 3D printer?


What can you make with a 3D printer?

A guide to applications of additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

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What can you make with a 3D printer and additive manufacturing technologies?

In one way or another, 3D printing is being used in almost all industries. So, when you’re wondering what can be made with additive manufacturing, the short answer is almost anything.

Applications of additive manufacturing

Many industries are harnessing the power and flexibility of 3D printing. Here are some of the most common products that are currently made with 3D printing:
 

  • Consumer products (eyewear, footwear, design, furniture)
  • Industrial products (manufacturing aids and tools, prototypes, functional end-use parts)
  • Automotive and aerospace prototypes and final parts
  • Medical, healthcare, and dental products
  • Prosthetics and orthotics
  • Architectural scale models and maquettes
  • Reconstructing fossils and ancient artifacts
  • Reconstructed evidence for forensic pathology
  • Movie props


This list is not exhaustive, and 3D printing is used for a huge variety of purposes. And it’s not just final manufacture, it can help improve almost every phase of the manufacturing process, starting right from the beginning. 

Transforming design with rapid prototyping

Aside from the ability to transform the production of final parts, one of the most useful and common applications of 3D printing and additive manufacturing is for rapid prototyping. Using 3D printing to develop new products is helping manufacturers around the world reduce time to market and increases opportunities for efficiency and innovation.

Why use 3D printers for rapid prototyping?

Basically, because it’s cost effective and fast, in fact, with 3D printing, it can be possible to go from an initial idea to a working prototype in a matter of days. This could cut weeks out of product development time. Depending on the application, you could even make a fully functional prototype in the final material, allowing you to better evaluate and test your designs.

If you need to make changes, you’ll find that iterations are faster and cheaper to make, allowing you and your team to work quickly to improve all aspects of your products.

And you need not stop at prototyping: 3D printing can also be used for short-run production, one-off custom products, or full-scale final part production – and also spare parts. It’s a complete end-to-end technology, so it can transform every aspect of your business.

Sectors that use 3D printing and applications of additive manufacturing

3D printing and additive manufacturing are exceptionally flexible and can be used in almost all industries. Here are a few of the most common industries and examples of how 3D printing and additive manufacturing are being used.

Industrial applications of the additive manufacturing process

3D printing is fast becoming a key technology for efficient design and production in the industrial sector. Examples of industrial 3D printing applications where additive manufacturing can enhance performance and cut lead times and costs include manufacture of machinery and industrial equipment, production line components, robots, and end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT), molds, manufacturing aids, tooling, jigs, and fixtures.

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3D printing in the automotive industry

Car makers around the world are using 3D printing to design and build prototype and final car parts – as well as spare parts, tools, jigs, and manufacturing aids. Overall, additive manufacturing has shortened the design and production process and has allowed for on-demand manufacturing, which reduces the need for inventory, warehousing, and storage.

But it isn’t just brand-new vehicles that benefit. Automotive enthusiasts are using 3D printed car parts to restore classic cars.

Automotive 3D printing case study

HP 3D printing helps CUPRA Racing create lightweight components for a new race car

Barcelona based SEAT is the only company that still designs, develops, and manufactures cars entirely in Spain. CUPRA is a stand-alone company within the SEAT organization that produces high-performance vehicles, including race cars.

During the conceptualization stages of their new racing car the CUPRA Leon Competición, CUPRA was faced with the challenge of quickly creating prototypes for some of the car’s lightweight components, including side mirrors, air vents, and a central control module for the steering wheel.

CUPRA turned to 3D printing - specifically the HP Jet Fusion 5200 Series 3D Printing Solution. Together, they were able to rapidly iterate designs, test those designs, and progress to the final product in a reduced time frame.

HP Metal Jet reduces car part production time at Volkswagen

Volkswagen, one of the world’s largest and most innovative vehicle makers, has adopted HP Metal Jet technology to produce high-performance functional car parts with specific structural requirements, such as gearshift knobs and mirror mounts.

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“Our vision to industrialize additive manufacturing is quickly becoming a reality with HP Metal Jet. It is a game changer for the automotive industry,” says Dr. Martin Göede, Head of Technology Planning and Development for Volkswagen. 

3D printing in the aviation and aerospace industry

Aviation and aerospace companies were early adopters of printing and additive manufacturing. As you might expect, some of the most rigid performance standards apply to this industry, and that creates the need for parts that are reliable in demanding conditions. Engineers who are designing and manufacturing for commercial and military aviation and aerospace need components made from the highest performance materials, and 3D printing is being used at all stages of design and production.

3D printing in the construction, architecture, and interior design industries

While 3D printed houses are already commercially available, most construction companies use the technology to produce pre-fabricated parts, often onsite.

These are usually large-scale concrete printing systems with wide nozzles that allow for large flow rate. This can be used to lay down concrete layers quickly, but also repeatably. However, 3D printing can also be used for more delicate and refined parts and intricate models as well.

Prior to construction, 3D printing can be beneficial to architects during the design phase. Take, for example, the Korean 3D printing service HS HI-TECH which used HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printing technology to create uniquely designed architectural elements and build modular structures. 

3D printing can also bring great benefits in terms of innovation and design freedom for interior design, home decoration, and furniture – such as custom-designed furniture and lighting.

3D printing for the medical and healthcare industry

The medical and dental industry is one of the fastest-growing adopters of additive manufacturing. From medical devices to prosthetics and even bioprinting, the applications of additive manufacturing for the medical industry are wide-ranging and often revolutionary.

The benefits of 3D printing for medical and dental

The freedom afforded by 3D printing and the ability to provide personalized solutions for patients in an efficient manner is driving huge growth in the medical and dental sectors. When coupled with detailed scanning, 3D printing can be used to provide highly customized patient-specific solutions like orthotics, prosthetics, or dental appliances.

Thanks to rapid prototyping, medical device manufacturers have freedom to design new products and help bring new medical devices to the market faster than ever.

Medical 3D printing case studies

Everex manufactures medical devices faster and at a lower cost

Everex is an Italian engineering company that creates unique and technologically advanced products that specialize in instruments for in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) analysis, the concept, and design of which are proposed by the customer.

Everex has recognized 3D printing as a crucial technology for new products, specifically in the field of diagnostic instruments.

One of Everex’s devices is called Hemo One, which is used to analyze samples of blood through clinical chemistry. All parts that comprise Hemo One were previously produced using traditional methods, but now are made with 3D printing or additive manufacturing.

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Biotec Italia s.r.l. produces electromedical parts faster with HP 3D Printing

Biotec Italia s.r.l. produces machinery for electromedical and aesthetic applications. Biotec wanted to manufacture parts for its CoaxMed machine, a revolutionary combination of monopolar, bipolar, fractional radiofrequency (RF), low-frequency ultrasound, vacuum massage, and cryliposculting technologies, and turned to HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology to help accelerate production.

3D printing for orthotics and prosthetics

With its core focus on enhancing patient comfort, the medical industry is leveraging the capabilities of 3D printing to create patient-specific devices, like prosthetics and orthotics. The benefits of design freedom and rapid production of customized devices make 3D printing an appealing alternative versus traditional manufacturing methods.

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Additive manufacturing for bioprinting

One of the most revolutionary applications of 3D printing is its potential use in the nascent field of bioprinting. Around the world, biotech firms, researchers, and academics are exploring the possible use for 3D printing in tissue engineering applications to create cells and organs, including inkjet bioprinting techniques, where layers of bio-ink, that is mostly comprised of cells, are deposited onto a hydrogel substrate, and are then slowly built up to form fully 3D structures.

The role of 3D printing technology during the COVID-19 pandemic

In spring 2020, hospitals were confronted with a new challenge when the COVID-19 virus began to take hold around the world. It wasn’t long before the global supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices were dwindling, and the medical community turned to technology to solve the shortage. Throughout the pandemic, 3D printing was used to supply healthcare staff with much-needed PPE, as well as spare parts to fix overworked ventilators. 

Global corporations, start-ups, and even high-school students with 3D printers answered the call. Thanks to 3D printing, millions of items of PPE and ventilator parts have now been shipped to hospitals around the world.

HP 3D Printing helped enable the design and manufacture of millions of critical medical parts  to help mitigate the medical supplies shortage.

3D printing in the dental industry

The dental industry may contain the single most 3D printed object in the world: the mold for clear aligners. These molds can be 3D printed with powder- and resin-based 3D printing processes, and with material jetting. But this is not the only dental product to be 3D printed: in fact, crowns, dentures, and surgical guides can all be made too.

Dental 3D printing case study

SmileDirectClub scales dental aligner 3D print production to deliver straighter smiles to millions

SmileDirectClub is the first direct-to-consumer med-tech platform for teeth straightening and transforming smiles. SmileDirectClub had a dental aligner production method in place since its inception in 2014, but due to its growing customer base, the company needed a manufacturing technology that would allow them to meet the increasing demand for at-home clear aligner therapy. Their previous technology produced delicate, fragile parts at slow speeds and high costs.

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“The volume output over a 24-hour time frame was low and we needed to find a way to increase volume output,” said John Dargis, Vice President of Manufacturing for SmileDirectClub.

This led Dargis and his team to research technologies that would enable them to mass-produce molds to create dental aligners, and thus deliver orthodontic solutions to customers more quickly. Today, they use HP 3D Printing, and the impact has been transformative.

3D Printing in the consumer goods industry

3D printing in the footwear sector

Before shoes were made in a range of uniform sizes, they were all custom made to fit individual feet. However, the requirement to produce in large quantities made custom production prohibitively expensive. 

With 3D printing, custom-made footwear can be produced, even at scale. 

“One hundred years from now, we might look back and see that the moment of industrialization where we had to fit into pre-existing sizes and styles was a blip in the history of shoemaking,” says Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the BATA Shoe Museum in Toronto. “Today, we’re moving back to bespoke footwear.”

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This revolution is led by new technologies that scan your foot and create a digital 3D model of your foot. That model is sent to a 3D printer, which creates a unique insole  that you can wear inside any shoe, allowing everyone to experience a new era of truly personalized shoe shopping.

3D printing in ophthalmology and eyewear

3D printing is a particularly suitable production method for eyewear frames because the measurements of an individual are easy to process in the end product.

Eyewear 3D printing case study

HORIZONS OPTICAL manufactures parts for custom eyewear with HP Multi Jet Fusion.

HORIZONS OPTICAL develops technologies and services to ophthalmic laboratories, optical chains with production capacity, and other industries in the optical sector.  HORIZONS OPTICAL’s “Made4U” concept allows customers to personalize their eyewear based on their unique physical characteristics, visual needs, and personal taste.

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With HP Multi Jet Fusion technology, HORIZONS OPTICAL created an end-to-end solution for customized eyewear. This includes using specialized software to take a 3D scan of the face, collect biometric data, allow customers to virtually try on glasses, and choose from a range of color options for the frames. Once the customization and fitting processes are completed, the glasses are sent to be 3D printed.

3D printing in the jewelry and wearables industry

3D printing can produce jewelry with direct or indirect production processes. Direct includes the creation of an item straight from a 3D design, while indirect manufacturing is 3D printing a mold that will be used to later create an item of jewelry. Working in either of these ways is helping to revolutionize the jewelry industry around the world.

3D printing in the sports equipment sector

Unlike other clothing and fashion sectors, the sports equipment industry places its primary focus on performance. This means that offering a customized fit can enhance the performance of an athlete and give them a competitive edge over their opponents. 3D printing is helping to provide custom-made equipment and footwear to sports professionals and athletes around the world.

Sports equipment 3D printing case study

Cobra Golf and Parmatech 3D print custom made golf putters 

Cobra Golf and Parmatech used HP Metal Jet to launch Cobra Golf’s 3D printed golf putter: the KING Supersport-35. This limited edition, fully 3D printed putter  with SIK face technology delivers the next level in personalization and putter performance.

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Other 3D printing applications for the sports industry can range from protective sports equipment, including helmets and padding, or even innovative table tennis accessories.

3D printing in the education sector 

3D printers have a variety of applications in the classroom and can enable teachers and students to create new models and prototypes quickly and cheaply.

There are still only a few degree courses that entirely specialize in additive manufacturing, but they are growing all the time, and many engineering, design, or product development departments will now have access to an onsite 3D printer. This is in addition to courses that allow students to specialize in CAD and 3D design, all of which can encompass experience with 3D printing.

No matter what the subject is, if the production of rapid models or prototypes is required, 3D printing is the optimum solution. Whether architectural, industrial, or even artistic models are required, 3D printing offers the fastest way to work, the best results, and a chance to future-proof the education of students around the world.

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Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of Cupra
  2. Data courtesy of Fast Radius
  3. Data courtesy of Volkswagen
  4. Data courtesy of Everex Srl.
  5. Data courtesy of Twikit. Printed by ZiggZagg (HP DMN partner)
  6. Data courtesy of SmileDirectClub
  7. Data courtesy of Superfeet 
  8. Data courtesy of Horizons Optical SLU
  9. Data courtesy of Cobra Golf