Andi’s Exploration 1
- What are the current and emerging 3D printing applications in the manufacturing field?
- What are the advantages and limitations of 3D printing technology?
- What are the larger implications of 3D printing with regard to manufacturing and the economy?
- Athletes and sports related companies have started using 3D printing to customize equipment such as shoes, helmets, and mouth guards. Beyond supplying these products only to top athletes, some startup companies also offer custom printed shoes to the general public. Customers take a picture of their foot, and 3D printing allows the custom shoes to be delivered much faster than is otherwise possible. Along the same line, 3D printed swimsuits are an emerging trend. Contimuum Fashion claims its N12 bikini to be the first ready-to-wear 3D printed article of clothing. It is made out of Nylon 12 (hence its name) and is fully waterproof.
- One advantage of 3D printing is that it creates less waste than traditional manufacturing techniques; 3D printing is referred to as additive manufacturing since it builds up an object layer by layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing which builds an object by cutting material away from a solid block. Another advantage is that 3D printing shortens the time from design to end product, as it allows engineers and designers a fast method for creating prototypes. This method of manufacturing is limited, however, in the fact it doesn’t currently have a friendly user interface. This has prevented average consumers from purchasing a 3D printer for their home, as they would also have to learn how to use its accompanying software. Another limitation of 3D printing is that it offers no economies of scale; 3D printers are not as efficient in producing mass quantities as a typical factory line, so they will not likely replace the tedious jobs of factory workers. (According to Fabricated by Lipson and Kurman).
- Larger implications of 3D printing include that it will allow startups and other companies to test new ideas without making large investments; they can print an item and see how consumers like it before investing time and resources into mass production. This will supply consumers with more variety and allow for an abundance of innovation and new ideas on the market. The image below shows a 3D printed bike planter. If not for 3D printing this object might not have been invented, as it is not in high demand and would not be worth the time and resources needed to manufacture it otherwise (sorry to offend anyone who really values bike planters). Additionally, 3D printing has the potential to lead to cloud manufacturing. This would be a system of large networks of small manufacturing companies, where ordering a custom item on the manufacturing cloud would elicit one or more of these small companies (depending on the size of the item and how many parts it has) to print a part and ship it to the customer when completed. Cloud manufacturing would eliminate worries about production capacity since the cloud would intelligently distribute tasks among the available companies. (According to Fabricated by Lipson and Kurman).