Exploring today's technology for tomorrow's possibilities
How 3D Printing is Changing the World
January 8, 2019
Across the globe, various 3D printing materials are being sourced to feed the growing demand for 3D-printed parts and objects.
3D printing continues to make waves in a huge range of industries from healthcare to art to science. Although 3D printing feels intensely futuristic, initial versions of this technology date back to the 1980s. The early days consisted of many rejections and failures since patents and inventions often failed to get the funding necessary to take off.
Today, it’s a sophisticated process that has gained popularity for its speed and relatively low cost. It’s particularly promising for smaller companies that can take advantage of quick manufacturing at a lower price to compete with bigger companies. 3D printing is, quite literally, changing the world, print by print.
Manufacturers like HP® are leading the way with revolutionary 3D printing technologies, such as the HP Metal Jet industrial printer, which help to vastly increase production volumes and expedite time to market.
View our below infographic for more details on how 3D printing is advancing in commercial and educational applications, and also its environmental impact and e-waste.
3D printing history overview
Before diving into the impact this unique technology is making today, it’s important to understand where it all started. The idea of 3D printing was powered by a desire for “rapid prototyping devices” that companies tried to patent in the early 1980s. Companies needed a faster way to get their products to market because traditional manufacturing was a slow, cumbersome obstacle.
The story of 3D printing begins with Dr. Hideo Kodama who tried and failed to patent a resin curing system in Japan. Yet another patent failure for a rapid prototyping device that cured liquid monomers into solids happened in France in 1984. Luckily, these early failures simply paved the way for eventual success.
1984 was a pivotal year for 3D printing where the tables finally turned. A tabletop manufacturer by the name of Charles “Chuck” Hall became frustrated with the painstaking process of creating customized parts. He suggested curing photosensitive resin into a part, layer by layer. He called this process “stereolithography.” And finally, in 1986, a patent was issued for this technology.
Selective laser sintering is more complex than other types of 3D printing methods. It involves powdered polymers fused together with a laser, layer by layer. The object then undergoes a final curing and decaking process.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) was invented most recently and is the most common 3D printing process used today. It’s a type of additive 3D printing characterized by very thin layers, added one on top of another until the part is created.
3D printing impacts
As you might imagine, 3D printing has transformed the world and it’s nowhere near reaching its full potential. Many companies, universities, and industries are benefiting from 3D printing.
What are the environmental impacts of 3D printing?
Thanks to 3D printing, production can benefit the environment in several ways:
3D-printed products are up to 50% lighter than those produced with standard methods, meaning they require less energy to transport
This is especially important for smaller companies who need to quickly bring in revenue after spending capital developing a product. This quick turnaround allows these small businesses to compete with larger ones.
In addition, 3D printing limits overhead costs, requires less labor than traditional manufacturing methods, and boosts overall production efficiency. If a product goes to market and needs a replacement part, there is no bottleneck or slowdown. You can simply print and replace the component.
HP® is leading the way in commercial 3D metal printing with the HP Metal Jet. This revolutionary 3D printer is the first industrial-scale metal printer to hit the market. It allows manufacturers in numerous industries to produce high volumes of parts, making them up to 50 times more productive.
What are the automotive and aviation industry impacts of 3D printing?
Both the automotive and aviation industry benefit from 3D printing because this method of manufacturing means that parts can be lighter, less expensive to transport, and easily tweaked via additional parts or replacement parts post-production.
As an example, Ford has used 3D printing over the last few decades and printed more than 500,000 auto parts. This has saved the company billions of dollars and millions of hours of labor. Typically the prototype process takes anywhere from 4 to 5 months and costs the company around $500,000. But a 3D printout of a prototype takes less time and costs just a few thousand.
Manufacturers are also using 3D printing to develop aircraft. GE, for instance, used 3D printing to create a new turboprop engine called the GE Catalyst. Engine designers combined 855 separate parts into just 12 using 3D printing which means the engine weight is 5% less and improves fuel consumption by 1%. While these may seem like incremental improvements, they make a huge difference across large fleets.
What are the healthcare impacts of 3D printing?
The healthcare industry benefits from 3D printing which can be used for bioprinting to create organs for transplant patients.
Labs have also been leveraging 3D printing to create prosthetics that cost under $100; much cheaper than traditionally-made prosthetics.
While it sounds like science fiction, there have been many real-life examples where medical 3D printing has proven its worth. A mouse with 3D-printed ovaries gave birth to healthy pups, for example. And scientists are still looking at its potential to ameliorate other medical issues.
What are the educational impacts of 3D printing?
Thanks to 3D printing, children are now learning about:
Computer-aided design (CAD): using computers to create, modify, analyze, or optimize design
Although 3D printing uses significant amounts of electricity, still 3D-printed products are up to 50% lighter than those produced with standard methods, meaning they require less energy to transport.
In manufacturing, 3D printers use only the amount of material necessary for the product, reducing overall waste. HP® is leading the path with the HP Metal Jet and other technology ready to help businesses grow faster and better.
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