The 3D printing market is set to be worth $24 billion by 2022. Rapid 3D printing industry growth is largely thanks to investment from businesses.
If you don’t know much about 3D printing, you likely have some questions. One of them might be, “How does 3D printing work?” Another is about who is using this technology and why they need it.
In this article, we’ll review how 3D printing works. We’ll also take a survey of the vast array of industries making use of this futuristic technology.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
Before we look at the ways different industries use 3D printing, we need to answer some questions. How does a 3D printer work anyway?
A 3D printer uses what’s known as fused depositional modeling, or FDM. During this process, the printer builds up a model layer by layer. It prints over the same area many times, creating two-dimensional layers that intersect.
The layers are glued together with an adhesive or ultraviolet light. Rather than using ink, the 3D printer uses a material like powdered or molten plastic. Some 3D printers use powdered metal.
The only rule is the material needs to be molten for the printing process. It also has to harden quickly. Otherwise, the object would collapse.
In theory, you can use almost any material to print, provided it meets these requirements. Some researchers developed a food printer that used molten chocolate.
Uses of 3D Printing
Those 3D printers that are available for consumer use are generally small. You can’t print very much with them. You also need technical designs or “patterns” that tell the printer how to create the object.
There are also enormous 3D printers that can create much larger objects. Examples include parts for machines or printing prototypes for planes and cars. In medicine, 3D printing can create new tissue for muscles or organs.
Some in the construction industry are even printing 3D houses.
One of the primary uses of 3D printing is creating prototypes. New designs for airplanes, spacecraft, and vehicles need to be tested before approval.
In the past, this meant going through the process of creating a design, then developing molds. Finally, you’d create the prototype and test it.
This was an expensive process, so it usually meant you’d test one or two designs. A 3D printer makes it much faster and more affordable to create prototypes for testing.
The result is more designs are tested.
Visualizing New Products
Another reason for prototyping is showing investors what the finished product looks like. It’s much better to present a prototype on a trade show floor. People become more enthusiastic about something when they can see and touch it.
This is clear in the housing market. It may not be to scale, but a 3D printed prototype does a better job of illustrating what the new home will look like. A condominium development looks like a better investment when you can see a model.
One of the advantages of 3D printing is how easy it is to switch or customize a design. We already noted this when we looked at how companies and manufacturers can make more prototypes.
To print a different design, you have to load up a different file on the computer. If you want to customize an object, you can add the customization to the selected files.
Manufacturers are looking to 3D printing to help them deliver more personalized products. In a world where everyone wants something designed just for them, 3D printing can help.
Who Needs 3D Printing?
From this quick survey of uses, it’s easy to see the reach of 3D printing technology. Almost every industry can make use of it.
Healthcare providers use 3D printing to create new medical devices like prosthetic limbs. The ease of changing the design file makes it possible to customize prosthetics for a better fit. It also lowers the cost.
Pharmaceutical companies hope to use 3D printing to deliver custom medications to patients. A file could adjust the ingredients in a pill for the patient’s individual needs. The printer would then 3D print the pills according to the specifications.
Machines could benefit too. Agriculture, aerospace, and automotive are looking at 3D printing more than their prototypes. They could also print 3D parts.
Some say 3D printing could make it possible for people in remote areas to print parts on-site to fix equipment. Others are looking at the model of a custom parts manufacturer, which could create new tools or customize existing machines.
Food is another surprising industry adopting 3D printers. So long as a food can be pureed, it can be printed. This helps to create custom meals, which could accommodate specialized diets with ease.
The Future of 3D Printing
These 3D printing trends may seem futuristic. Some people envision an even more robust future for this technology.
Healthcare experts hope to be able to 3D print new organs some day. 3D printing is set to revolutionize fashion with 3D-printed clothing. Furniture, houses and more may one day be customized and 3D printed en masse.
Almost every manufacturer is being affected. From toys to heavy duty mining equipment, almost anything can be 3D printed.
Right now, the focus is on improving the technology. 3D printing future trends include faster printers, more materials, and falling costs.
In short, the 3D printing revolution has only just begun.
The Future of 3D Printing
You asked, “how does 3D printing work?” and now you have an answer. With an understanding of the process, you see how wide-ranging its applications are.
You can also see why 3D printing will be integral to some industries in the coming years. It lowers costs, reduces time, and gives you the ability to personalize everything.
The future is promising for 3D printing and many other technologies. If you want to stay on top of the latest trends, we have more insightful articles for you.