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The Meteoric Rise of 3-D Printing

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Saturday, May 16, 2015

3-D Printed Car
3-D Printed Car

Peering into the innovative world of 3-D printing (sometimes called additive manufacturing) in nine quick bites:  

1) American company purchases of industrial 3-D printers in 2014 comprised of 1/3 of all robotic and industrial machine sales. Some of the companies using 3-D printing to improve and increase production are:

General Electric - jet engines, medical devices, and home appliance parts
Lockheed Martin and Boeing - aerospace and defense
Aurora Flight Sciences - unmanned aerial vehicles
Google - consumer electronics
Invisalign - dental devices
LUXeXcel - lenses for light-emitting diodes (LEDs)

2) Most industry analysts believe that 3-D printing is “ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications.” One example is the U.S. hearing aid industry, which has transformed 100% of their manufacturing to 3-D printing. The entire process took less than 500 days. All of the hearing aid companies that continued with their traditional, already out-of-date manufacturing processes went out of business.

3) 3-D Printing is just beginning to significantly change the fashion industry. Many designers and companies are “experimenting with clothing and accessories created on 3-D printers, which can be programmed to combine layers upon layers of material into a one-of-a-kind object or garment.” The bridal industry is abuzz with the creation of 3-D printed “custom-printed wedding dresses, along with headpieces, floral headbands and customized jewelry and other accessories.” See the World First 3D-Printed Wedding Theme at http://www.xuberance.org/#!gallery/cri2

4) The physical size of 3-D printers and the products created are on the verge of becoming substantially larger. The U.S. Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin, Cincinnati Tool Steel, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory “are partnering to develop a capability for printing most of the endo- and exoskeletons of jet fighters, including the body, wings, internal structural panels, embedded wiring and antennas, and soon the central load-bearing structure.” This larger scale manufacturing is already being used. The main body of the drones used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq are 3-D printed in one single procedure for each one. Some of the drones have wingspans of 132 feet.

5) The physical integrity and quality of 3-D printed material will truly be revolutionary. The automotive and aerospace industries are developing vastly superior critical components:

“Previously, the fuel efficiency of jet fighters and vehicles could be enhanced by reducing their weight, but this frequently made them less structurally sound. The new technology allows manufacturers to hollow out a part to make it lighter and more fuel-efficient and incorporate internal structures that provide greater tensile strength, durability, and resistance to impact. And new materials that have greater heat and chemical resistance can be used in various spots in a product, as needed.”

6) Innovations of 3-D printing are saving major companies both time and money. Automakers like Ford, BMW, and Honda are “moving toward the additive manufacturing of many industrial tools and end-use car parts in their factories and dealerships—especially as new metal, composite plastic, and carbon-fiber materials become available for use in 3-D printers. Distributors in many industries are taking note, eager to help their business customers capitalize on the new efficiencies.”

7) The flexibility in manufacturing that 3-D printing offers is irresistible to any company. Once the method is tried, most companies take the plunge: “Local Motors recently demonstrated that it can print a good-looking roadster, including wheels, chassis, body, roof, interior seats, and dashboard but not yet drivetrain, from bottom to top in 48 hours. When it goes into production, the roadster, including drivetrain, will be priced at approximately $20,000. As the cost of 3-D equipment and materials falls, traditional methods’ remaining advantages in economies of scale are becoming a minor factor.”

8)  Industry analysts expect that over the next five years U.S. medical facilities will at least be doubling their purchases of 3-D printers. There is almost no end to the innovative medical marvels that will be produced. Dr. Piers Barker of Duke University heads research in 3-D printing for pediatric cardiology. He recently told the New York Times: "The promise of 3-D printing is you can really begin to personalize potentially almost every medical intervention.”

One recent example is from the University of Michigan: “In a striking example of how 3-D printers could customize medical care, doctors turned powdered plastic into tiny devices that saved the lives of three baby boys by holding open defective airways so they could breathe — and the implants even expanded as the tots grew.” For the full story click on the “3 Boys…..” link below.

9) Fully functional skin-cell 3-D printers are already in use in some hospitals. John D. Jackson, Ph.D. is Associate Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. He explains the process: “Say you have an injury to your skin. You’d scan that wound to get the exact size and shape of the defect, and you’d get a 3-D image of the defect. You could then print the cells in the exact shape you need to fit the wound.” Currently these printers treat only the skin’s top two layers and help heal most burn wounds. In the near future the lab expects “to print deeper beneath the skin’s surface and to print more complicated layers of skin, including adipose tissue and deep-rooted hair follicles.”

Richard D’Aveni, “The 3-D Printing Revolution”, Harvard Business Review, May 2015    https://hbr.org/2015/05/the-3-d-printing-revolution

Matthew Shaer, “Soon, Your Doctor Could Print a Human Organ on Demand”, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2015 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/soon-doctor-print-human-organ-on-demand-180954951/

Dorian Geiger, “Something Old (Bridal Wear) Meets the New (3-D Printing)”, The New York Times, April 16, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/fashion/weddings/something-old-bridal-wear-meets-the-new-3-d-printing.html

3 Boys Saved by Customized Airway Tube Made on 3-D Printer …… 

Photo: http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/09/14/come-see-amazing-extraordinary-stupefying-3d-printed-car/  CC     

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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