Connecting Technology and Business.

3D printing - an overview


Concept modelling or functional prototyping of a certain physical product is a very time consuming process. It starts from detailed research to designing, dimensioning, drawing, sketching, choosing the right material and then building the model or the prototype. While the first set of activities can be achieved faster using various technologies like Computer aided designing (CAD), Computer aided Engineering (CAE), Computer aided industrial design (CAID) and Computer aided Manufacturing (CAM), the final leg of producing the actual model or the prototype is a real challenge. 3D printing helps industry professional meet the challenge head on with its innovative technology - converting the 3D models on screen to actual and functional 3D models. 3D printers, instead of printing onto paper using ink, moves back and forth, printing layers in order to build up an object using various materials.

Industrial relevance

Industries across various verticals have started adopting 3D printing technology to arrive at results faster. Consumer goods & electronics, aerospace & defense, automotive, education, dental, medical and medical devices, architecture, industrial machinery, footwear, sporting goods, toys and service bureaus – 3D printing finds its relevance in a number of industries. Consumer-product designers, automotive manufacturing engineers, dental labs and countless other professionals use this technology to accelerate designing and manufacturing of their products.

Architectural design

Computer simulations have been used in engineering and architecture to visualize buildings but traditionally real live models were built using wood or foam boards which let the architect see how the building would stand in physical space. Architectural models can now be created with the precision offered by computers rapidly using 3D printing.

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Ergonomic designing is essential to prevent injury and improve productivity. 3D printed models permit accurate testing of ergonomic performance during the product development process.

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3D printed concept models help market products powerfully. Focus groups can be shown a pre–launch model of a new product that's nearly identical to the real thing. They can see it, hold it and examine it from every angle.

Functional modelling

The 3D printed prototypes and models can also be functional – they work the way the intended end product functions. This is achieved using original or nearly original materials like thermoplastics, Photopolymers and Polyetherimides that can withstand thermal, mechanical and chemical stresses that come into play during functional testing. Jigs, fixtures, tool masters and even low-volume production tooling can be produced in-house in hours or days.

Consumer Products

Customized end user parts can also be manufactured using this technology. MRI components with ultimate accuracy can be developed to meet very specific needs in the medical field. Dentistry can take the help of 3D printing to digitally design teeth models.

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3D printers

A leading provider of 3D inkjet printers is Objet. Another example is the Replicator 2 from MakerBot which is a fourth-generation 3D printer, and it lets you print just about any creation you have in mind out of plastic. Well, as long as it fits within the printer's confines, that is--it can print anything about the size of a shoebox. For instance, you could print your own toys, jewelry or household objects, or if part of a gadget breaks, you can just run off a replacement part (though there are some potential copyright pitfalls there). There's also a growing MakerBot community that offers plenty of templates for you to print off to get you started. Prices of 3D printers today range from less than $500.

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3D printing Windows 8.1 app from Microsoft

Even Microsoft has released a 3D printing app for Win 8.1 users enabling them to print 3D objects. The simple, simplistic, free app from Microsoft provides a basic way to print common 3D objects, as well as to import other files from SkyDrive or elsewhere. But the degree of customization that the app allows is small, so 3D Builder basically serves as an introduction to the world of 3D printing.

3D printing – Sidelines

There is a choco-creator that will print customised chocolates for you and your loved ones. By connecting it to an iPad and taking a photo, you could have your face printed onto a vase, all done with a 3D printer. Want to make electric guitars more practical without compromising sound? Then you can print a more- streamlined version of the instrument. You can also create your own unique fashion accessories with the help of 3D printing.

3D printing – IP issues

Unfortunately, printing off copies of objects, even if it's just to innocently replace a personal item, does raise intellectual property issues—both in terms of patent law and copyright. The problem here is that 3D printing is still regarded as a new technology, so the issue of intellectual property and what's legal is yet to be fully clarified. Still, it would probably be advisable not to reproduce someone else's idea in its entirety.