3D printers have been around for longer than you may think. The first stereolithography machine was built in 1983 by Charles Hull. More recently NASA catered for their astronauts with 3D printed Pizza! But what does the future hold for 3D printing?
Team has recently acquired a new 3D printer to produce rapid prototypes in-house. This new printer can lay plastic and reinforcing fibres such as fibreglass, carbon fibre and Kevlar to form composite parts. The way in which these fibres are laid can vary to enhance and strengthen specific areas of the composite part; for example, fibres can be added to the outside walls of any 3D printed part in a concentric pattern to improve wall strength and allow the part to withstand side impacts.
The Markforged Desktop Mark Two 3D printer here at Team
The printer can produce relatively low-cost, high quality and high strength prototypes quickly, often within the same day. Quick prototyping using 3D printing can improve design capabilities as concepts can be tested by printing a part (or a section of part) with varying parameters to determine the best solution.
The biggest step for 3D printing technology will be the shift to mass manufacture capabilities.
At Team our 3D printer is used for prototyping, and the development of fibre printing and the continuous evolution of the technology is revolutionising product manufacture. 3D printers are now able to print metals (including bronze, silver and gold) and ceramics. Printers’ speed and accuracy is also improving, and they are becoming more cost-effective for companies in numerous industries.
The biggest step for 3D printing technology will be the shift to mass manufacture capabilities. The current drawbacks are that it is expensive, slow and often imprecise compared to traditional mass manufacture methods. This limits the use of 3D printing to short-run or high-end manufacturing. However, the significant benefits offered by 3D printing, such as greater design, mean that it is likely only a matter of time before we overcome these challenges and move to mass production.
We are not that far away! A recent report by Sculpteo revealed that the use of 3D printing for mass production increased by 21% in 2017, and 3D printing manufacturer Markforged recently gained a $82M investment to develop and evolve the technology. Some companies have already started developing these capabilities – Adidas and their Futurecraft 4D shoes, for example – and we see similar developments even in more medically-orientated applications. Align Technology Inc. has revolutionised dental care by 3D printing 8 million personalised orthodontics a year from patients’ unique oral cavity scans. Within the medical world and beyond, the future looks promising for 3D printing.