3D printing is evolving into becoming a standard tool for many manufacturing businesses and could potentially transform the industry permanently in the future.
There are many reasons why businesses are now utilising 3D printing as their preferred method of production; not only does it have a fast turnaround compared to manually operated or machine-handled production methods, but it can also be more cost-effective and efficient long-term.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a process of making three dimensional (3D) solid objects from a digital file. 3D printed objects are created using an additive process, where thin layers of material are added to the horizontal cross-section until the final object is created.
Unlike subtractive manufacturing, where an object is created by cutting out or hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic, such as with a milling machine, 3D printing does the opposite, enabling you to use less material and create less waste.
How does it work?
3D printing starts by having a 3D modelled design of what you want to create; using modelling software you design your object and create a digital file compatible with your 3D printer. At Amey Plastics we use SolidWorks CAD software, but there are many different 3D printing modelling software tools available.
Once you have designed your 3D model, your file then needs to be prepared for printing, a process called ‘slicing’. Slicing is the process of dividing the model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers using slicing software. Some 3D printers have in-built slicing software enabling you to send your raw file straight to the printer.
Why use 3D printing?
3D printing is most commonly used for the rapid production of prototypes or for low-volume production. The turnaround in the production time of a 3D printed product is far quicker than traditional manufacturing methods. This has made the making of prototypes much more cost and time-effective.
Whilst 3D printing is still mostly used for prototypes and low-volume production, it is becoming increasingly popular as a preferred method of production to replace traditional manufacturing due to its many benefits:
- Faster production turnaround from design to print
- Flexibility to test & create more products in lower volumes
- Reduces waste of materials
- Cost-effective due to the fewer production stages; reducing the supply-chain, tools, materials or machinery required
- Less staff required in the production process; therefore, reducing labour costs
- Increasingly more materials to choose from as the technology evolves
- Less storage or facility space required
- Endless design possibilities
The future of 3D printing
As 3D printing technology continues to evolve and enter bigger markets, in particular the automotive, aerospace, medical and industrial sectors, it is very possible that it will become the norm and main process for production; including larger volumes eventually. However, there are a few challenges for businesses to overcome before it becomes a widespread method of production. These include the recruitment of technical engineers and designers with the necessary training and skills, as well as the initial set up costs of the equipment, software and materials.
The technology and software are also developing rapidly and businesses may be reluctant to commit and invest in 3D printing, as they will need to keep up with the technology as it advances. 3D printers also tend to use more energy in the production process, compared to other methods, such as injection moulding; which is why it is more commonly used for low-volume production for now. 3D printing is also most commonly associated with producing plastic products; despite its ability to manufacture with other materials, the cost of materials for 3D printing purposes can be quite high and plastic might not be suitable for some applications.
3D printing isn’t the only technology threatening to disrupt the manufacturing industry; AI machinery and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology are relatively new advancements in the industry but have the ability to revolutionise how all manufacturing businesses operate in the future.
How can we help?
Amey Plastics is a leading UK plastic manufacturer, specialising in injection moulding and 3D Printing services. If you’ve got a project or a concept, our specialist team of designers and engineers can talk you through the manufacturing stages and find the most efficient and cost-effective solution for your requirement. Get in touch today by clicking here or call us on 01730 266525.