You have no doubt read or heard about 3D printing and how amazing it is. It doesn’t take much searching to find a news item about some incredible feat of 3D printing that created an artificial limb or something equally as dramatic and complex. It sounds like something out of science fiction.
So, this begs the question: Just how big of a deal is 3D printing? Is it a fad or is it here to stay? Let’s dive into the topic and see what answers come up.
3D Printing Defined
First, let’s nail down exactly what 3D printing is. To paraphrase the definition from 3dprinting.com, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing is the process wherein a three-dimensional object is created from a digital file using the additive process. The additive process is where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the desired object is finished.
How Do Engineers Feel About It?
When it comes to innovations, the average layperson more than likely thinks of engineers as being on the front lines of new technology use. The article “What Engineers Really Think About 3D Printing”, cites a survey done by 700 manufacturing engineers that got their thoughts on 3D printing.
The consensus seems to be that 3D printing fills a need, and the engineers feel that it has the potential to bring faster and more efficient fabrication of products of not only a higher quality but also of increasing complexity. In other words, yes, it’s a real thing.
But on the flip side, there are concerns about the cost of equipment, the availability of materials, and post-production requirements and costs. So yes, there apparently is no such thing as the perfect solution.
Does It Have A Future?
3D printing most emphatically has a future, though for the foreseeable future it does best when working in conjunction with more traditional subtractive manufacturing methods.
Furthermore, 3D printing is increasingly able to give end users the power to manufacture their products, bypassing the need for an outside manufacturing company to fabricate things. Of course, not everyone will be able to afford 3D printing for now, so there will be a lucrative market for outsourced 3D manufacturing.
3D printing has demonstrated versatility and value in a wide number of industries, including medical, entertainment, and shoe manufacturing, to name a few. It will continue to do so, making more inroads as its practicality becomes more evident.
Just bear in mind how many past technologies started off as prohibitively expensive then, as time went on, and the technology was perfected, the price plummeted. For example, once upon a time, laser pointers cost over a hundred dollars, were offered in expensive gift catalogs, and were considered a very big deal. Nowadays, they come with that cheap keychain you buy at the local gas station, and you use it to drive your cat crazy. Inevitably, the price of new technology drops and the innovative becomes the commonplace.
For more information on 3D printing, check out “The 3D Printing Industry Is Heading In Fantastic Directions”.