By Dean Schwartz (SWAG Master): Among the various technological developments over the past decade, 3D printing is perhaps the most exciting simply because it’s changing the way we think of product manufacturing, and the possibilities are seemingly endless. You can now use this tech to make clothes, shoes, machine parts, containers, and even food items. The technology is still relatively new, but businesses ranging from the medical industry to the fashion industry are already leveraging its availability to improve their bottom line.. But what exactly is 3D printing?
3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. This manufacturing process additively builds or forms 3D parts in layers from CAD data. Think of it like a digital deli slicer. The technology takes a 3D CAD file, slices it into hundreds or even thousands of 2D layers, and then additively builds up the 2D layers to form a 3D product. Layer thickness (the size of each individual layer of the sliced design) is determined partly by technology, partly by material, and partly by desired resolution and your project timeline. Thicker layers are faster builds, and thinner layers take more time but give you finer resolution and less visible layer lines.
3D printing can be done with a number of different materials, mainly different plastics. The most common 3D printers use a spool of plastic that looks like string. The plastic is melted through the machine then deposited on to a plate where it begins to take shape layer by layer.
But why is this technology better than more traditional methods? Let’s get into some of the reasons why 3D printing is a game changer.
Benefits of 3D Printing
3D print technology is significant because it offers direct manufacturing. This means that a design goes directly from you to a physical product through a computer and a printer. This may not seem like much, but it has massive benefits over the traditional manufacturing process. There are 3 key advantages to using this new process, shorter lead time, design freedom, and lower costs. Let’s go through each one in a little more detail.
1. Shorter lead time – Creating a prototype using traditional manufacturing methods could take weeks and even months. 3D printing technology can cut this time down to days! Cutting down the time it takes to get from design to finished product gives businesses an advantage by providing more flexibility. Prototypes can be generated quicker, and it opens the door to low volume production.
2. Design freedom – Traditionally, designers and engineers have relied heavily on the manufacturing process to dictate the end design. Design freedom in 3D printing is considered “zero-cost” because of the layering process. Design features are seamlessly integrated within each cross-section as the part builds. This eliminates the need for tooling and labor-intensive assembly while reducing lead time and part count. All of this leads us to our next point.
3. Lower costs – Shorter lead times, zer0 tooling, reduced labor, and reduced inventory are all results of 3D printing technology. All of these benefits help to reduce costs.