So you have heard a lot about 3D printing and 3D printers and have started to think that may be you would like to try it? Buying a 3D printer can be a bit of an investment, especially if you do not know whether you are going to get the use out of it, you are probably worried that it will turn out to be an expensive toy, a snap purchase that will end up sitting in the corner of the room never being used. But it does not have to be this way, once you realise their full potential and start using them to their full potential you may wonder why you did not buy one sooner.
Why use a 3D printer?
The best way to look at a 3D printer is as a tool, it is a means for you to manufacture objects in your own home or your office. It gives you full control over the production of items that can be either practical or just purely aesthetic. Essentially, if you have a 3D model of an object your can 3D print it! And with the ever expanding range of 3D printer materials, 3D printer filament or SLA resins you can make objects in an increasingly diverse range of materials with different properties that will suite different functions.
Most home users of 3D printers make a variety of objects from designs that are readily and, usually, freely available from a wide range of 3D model repositories on the web. Where they come into there own though is when the 3D printer user begins to design their own models using 3D design software. This frees up the user to make objects that they specifically need, design new products or create works of art without the need for costly infrastructure or outsourcing to other companies that can constrain the design process.
So, for example: you loose the battery cover of your remote control; the knob breaks on your washing machine; you need a new door latch for the bathroom – well then you can simply design one your self and 3D print it. If you’re a business and you have a new product idea then you can start prototyping it straight away with no need for outside agencies. With the development of tough and resilient 3D printer filaments like Nylon it also makes it possible to make working, functional prototypes.
3D printers are a cool toy that will allow you to free your creative side to create what ever it is you are able to design. As more and more 3D model files are created it also means that you are more likely to be able to find a model file that will suite your needs without the need to design. We expect that in the future many manufacturers will make more and more 3D models of simple replaceable components available to (whether they will be free is another matter) meaning that you will be able to get more and more usable 3D printable files to fix products in your home or office.
How can 3D printing be used in your business?
3D printing is not the answer to all business production needs, at least not yet. What it is not good for is the manufacture of large quantities of low cost items, this is much better suited to conventional manufacturing practices like injection moulding where the per item production cost is very low for large quantities. It is however, very good for producing high value unique or limited edition items where full scale manufacturing initial set up costs would be too high to make it worth while. The other advantage that it has over conventional manufacturing is that very complex items can be produced in a single object where previously that item would be a composite of several different components.
For example Airbus Group Innovations have created a prototype A380 bracket, using laser sintering technology that has been optimised to reduce weight. Such adapted parts have the potential for large fuel cost savings and a significant reduction in waste materials. As 3D printing is about adding material rather than taking material away from a block only the material that is required is used in production so no material is wasted.
Complex designs can therefore be created using 3D printing and, due to the ease of use, those designs can be easily modified and tweaked, first with cheaper materials and then when the design has been finalised more costly 3D printing technologies can be employed.
3d printing therefore offers up new avenues of development for manufacturers and for design agencies, streamlining the protoyping of new parts and allowing for the optimisation of designs for improved functional efficiencies and cost savings.
So if you are still interested then have a look at the different types of 3D printing technologies available to use. We have a brief guide on the specifications to think about buying your 3D printer.