Since the technology first became readily available in 2007, 3D printing has been constantly in and out of the headlines. We’re always hearing about the weird and wonderful things that have been created…
— Cults. (@Cults3D) March 7, 2017
Now don’t get us wrong – these creations don’t always sound that useful and people do print a lot of strange (and pointless) stuff. Solo finger pen, anyone? We wouldn’t blame you for feeling that 3D printing is a bit of a gimmick. But let us assure you, it’s not!
In fact, 3D printing has huge potential and is already helping designers and engineers to improve the efficiency of their production processes and find solutions to some of life’s greatest challenges. Still sceptical? Take a look at how 3D printing technology has shaped these 5 industries:
1. Home building
As the world’s population steadily grows, many cities are facing housing shortages. Architects and housing developers are finding new ways to build affordable houses – quickly – and 3D print is one technology they’ve turned to.
With the aim of tackling homelessness, San Francisco-based company, ICON, has created this compact 4002 ft. model home, which they hope to mass-produce for locations across the globe. The structure is printed in just a few hours, using a Vulcan 3D printer and each home takes less than 24 hours to complete.
— ICON (@ICON3DTech) March 10, 2018
The homes are printed using a concrete mixture that’s loose enough to ooze from the printer, but dense enough to set quickly in slabs. It’s hoped each house will cost around $4000 to complete, meaning it could be a vital lifeline for some of the world’s most deprived areas. Genius!
2. Electric car production
The world’s first 3D printed electric cars are thought to be going into production as early as next year. Created by Chinese company, Polymaker, and Italian manufacturer, X Electrical Vehicle, the vehicles are designed to waste less material during production and use fewer plastic components.
The cars are electric, smart-sized and almost entirely printed; the few traditionally-made parts include the glass windscreen, rubber tyres and chassis. The vehicles take around 3 days to print and the manufacturers hope to begin producing around 500 units a year initially.
3D printing has long been used by manufacturers to create prototypes and test small parts, but recent years have seen it take a more central role. By linking hundreds of 3D printers through the same software platforms, start-up manufacturers are successfully mass producing products.
Stacking printers means the factory size and number of employees required is dramatically reduced, meaning they produce large amounts at considerably lower costs than traditional methods. Check out this video to see US company, Voodoo Manufacturing, talking about their processes:
4. Space travel
Another industry that’s seen 3D printing take centre stage is aerospace design. Aircraft manufacturers have used 3D print for decades to product small, bespoke parts and as the technology has advanced, opportunities have really taken off.
Pioneering firm, Relatively Space, have hit the headlines for being the first company to attempt to 3D print a rocket. Just last month, they received a further $35 million in private equity funding to continue their project.
With the backing they’ve received since setting out, they’ve created the world’s largest metal 3D printer. The printer contains an extremely powerful laser which allows the system to simultaneously melt and print aluminium. Pretty exciting stuff, ay?
The world of medicine is perhaps where some of the most exciting and worthwhile uses for 3D printing have emerged. Cutting-edge 3D printing technology has already been crucial to some life-changing advancements.
3D printers have enabled medical equipment to be produced more quickly and cost-effectively and scientists have also successfully printed splints, models, and even, prosthetic limbs. Printed models have also aided researchers with new discoveries, such as this model of a cancerous tumour created at Tsinghua University in China.
Scientists are also using printing for the creation of biomaterials and tissue engineering. Pioneering technology is helping them print everything, from blood vessels, bones and heart valves, to synthetic organs and skin. Although this might sound unnerving, it could help to deliver some serious breakthroughs in the future.
Do you want to see our 3D printer in action? Check out the video in this blog ‘How 3D printing is changing the shape of digitally-printed signage.’
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