You probably remember the first time that you heard about 3D printing. It started off nearly Star Trekkian in its replicator-like possibilities, even if the first real object made in the 80s was just a little cup. Here in the 21st century, 3D printing has made the most incredible things. Prosthetic limbs, for example.
But then it sort of leveled off. At least as far as publicity goes. As incredibly innovative as the technology was or is, there’s not a 3D printer in every home, nor even in every manufacturing facility. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still moving forward. Engineers use 3D printing in manufacturing. And right now, that’s where most of the innovation is happening.
Here’s what some engineers had to say about this technology, how it’s being used, and where it’s headed.
Survey Findings Focused on Two Groups
In an independent survey by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing and prepared by SMS Research Advisors, which you can download for free here, manufacturing engineers were asked about their experience and thoughts on 3D printing. Of the 700 people who responded to the survey, part used 3D printing, also called industrial additive manufacturing (AM), and part were considering using it.
According to the study, the effect that AM could have on manufacturing was best told by the people who know that industry best. They were asked how they plan to use the technology in the next 3 years, what are the biggest benefits and drawbacks, what value does AM have on their business, how can the technology evolve, who will likely own and use it, and where do service providers fit into the scheme.
AM is Just Another Way to Work More Efficiently
The fact that a widget was created using a 3D printer isn’t what’s important. Professionals say what matters is that 3D printing makes creating a widget more efficient. That’s the business value. It’s not technology for technology’s sake, but a real, effective way to produce consistent, high-quality products more efficiently and better than other methods.
Two other significant benefits were reported. Those were reducing lead time for parts, and producing parts with more complex designs. Consumer products, medical, aerospace, and automotive parts manufacturers made up the bulk of respondents.
AM Faces Challenges in Real World Applications
As with any newer technology, especially something that’s so different from the ways that products have been manufactured before, there must be problems with implementation. That proved true with AM.
The survey found four main drawbacks or roadblocks to widespread implementation. The cost of equipment ranked highest. But outsourcing AM could help broaden access to better technology. Limited materials was next, with post-processing requirements and the cost of manufacturing taking up the other slots.
Stratasys asserted in the survey that emphasizing the overall business value that AM brings could help open a dialogue where the technology is more readily accepted instead of being viewed as something that’s clever, but not necessary to get the job done.
The survey covered a lot of ground, but the two main issues were identified. The technology of 3D printing has merit. Users like it, and believe that it fulfills its promise of better, more efficient and faster production. There’s a need, and 3D printing meets it.
On the downside, cost makes 3D printing difficult to swallow. Outsourcing can help. But what could really break down those walls of resistance is focusing on how much better manufacturing is when 3D printing is part of it.
Engineers have always been on the cutting edge, and today is no different. Today, it’s 3D printing. Tomorrow, who knows? Continuing education helps you stay on top of what’s relevant in engineering. And that’s where PDH Academy can help. Check out our courses when your next credit hours are due, and see how efficient keeping your requirements current can be.