Thom Worm’s Exploration 1
- What are the current and emerging 3D printing applications in the manufacturing field?
One of the most recent innovations in the 3D printing field has been the ability to print in ceramics. This technique currently uses stereolithography to create the ceramic from a polymer which is then fired in a kiln to produce the final object. Ceramic parts have advantages in many applications for their significant hardness, ability withstand compression and tolerance of high temperatures. However, traditional ceramic manufacturing techniques typically use molds for parts, which makes it difficult to form parts with complex internal structures. The ability to 3D print in ceramics enables the creation of parts like ceramic meshes and parts with complicated internal voids that will have a variety of high temperature applications. In many applications, specialty ceramics outperform metal parts of many kinds and additive manufacturing of ceramics will likely open the door to using ceramic rather than metal parts in a variety of applications.
2. What are the advantages and limitation of 3D printing technology?
There are significant advantages to 3D printing technology. The most notable of these comes from the small manufacturing runs (as small as a single item) that are available with 3D printing. This advantage allows customized and personalized products such as custom-molded medical fixtures and personalized items such as keychains and bracelets. However, despite the ability to cheaply manufacture products on a small scale, 3D printing in it’s current iteration is still a fairly limited technology. While a variety of plastics and many metals can easily be printed, the ability to 3D print in highly specialized alloys and other niche materials is still some ways away. The other significant downside to 3D printing technology is that the cost of manufacturing per unit does not change. This means that large runs of identical products are often much more expensive if created with a 3D printer than with traditional techniques.
3: What are the larger implications of 3D printing with regard to manufacturing and the economy?
More than anything else, 3D printing allows the potential of ultra-rapid manufacturing of complex parts and machines. In the future, it is likely that businesses will have entire warehouses at full of 3D printing machines. Theoretically, one could (at a significant cost), send the plans for a complex machine such as a car to one of these facilities and have all of the parts completed in 48 hours or less. While this is probably beyond the financial abilities of a hobbyist, it could change the operation of businesses such as oil refineries, which tend to have extremely high downtime costs.
Fabricated – Lipson and Kurman