3D printing technology is slowly cementing its role as a key part of the manufacturing mix, continuing its journey towards industry 4.0. It has already lowered the barriers to entry for manufacturing, allowing enterprises across many industries to respond to customer demands while offering greater customisation of products and speed to market, says GlobalData, the data analytics company.
Venkata Naveen, Disruptive Tech Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “3D printing has leaped from the proof-of-concept stage to a viable manufacturing alternative, demonstrating its potential in real-world environments, notably in industries such as aerospace and defense, construction, consumer and automotive.”
The Innovation Explorer database of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Center reveals how 3D printing is increasingly becoming crucial in the mainstream manufacturing of various industries.
3D printing in the construction industry can be used to not only produce concrete bricks but print an entire building. The technology is more befitting to the industry as the design information required to print a product is readily available in the building information modelling (BIM) software. 3D printing allows faster and more accurate construction of complex shapes and, at the same time, cuts production times, and reduces labor costs and material waste.
Apis Cor, robotic construction startup based in Boston, used its movable 3D printing machine to build the world's largest two-storey office in Dubai. The printer, shaped like a tower crane, sits in the middle of the building to print the office layer by layer using a gypsum-based material.
The market for 3D printing in healthcare is growing rapidly, particularly for the manufacturing of medical devices. One of the greatest advantages of the technology is the freedom to produce custom-made and on-demand medical products and equipment. Moreover, the availability of open-source product designs is helping 3D printing startups to mass-produce essential medical equipment.
In the recent wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, for instance, 3D printing has come to the rescue of hospitals to meet the demand of key medical supplies such as masks and ventilators running low. In early March 2020, Italy’s 3D printing startup Isinnova produced an essential ventilator part ‘Venturi valve,’ which connected an oxygen mask to a respirator, for a local hospital in Northern Italy.
The automotive sector is ripe for 3D printing. Besides its extensive use for rapid prototyping, the technology is being used to produce parts such as tail lights, bumpers and parking brake brackets. The technology not only helps the aesthetic design of vehicles but also allows lower consumption of materials and wastage which is beneficial for all stages of manufacturing.
Audi, for example, has used Stratasys’ multi-material 3D printer to slash the lead time for prototyping of transparent, multi-coloured tail light covers. Traditionally, the automaker used molding and milling methods to produce prototypes of new designs where some of the multi-color parts, such as tail light covers, have limitations be produced in one-piece and must be assembled. Audi has used Stratasys J750 full-colour, equipped with 500,000 color combinations, which helped its designers to print transparent parts in multiple colors in a fraction of time.
Naveen concludes: “2020 will be game-changing for 3D printing technology amid the COVID-19 pandemic, fuelling its adoption in multiple industries. The current scenario of fragile supply chains will fast track the development of a digital manufacturing ecosystem, driven by 3D printing technology.”