The ways 3D printing is being used

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a transforming industry.

Using computing for the design process, 3D printing typically refers to making three-dimensional solid objects by layering materials on top of one another. Some may use it during the planning stage, others may use it to develop tools, or architecture and design features – however it’s implemented 3D printers have come in handy for a lot of companies.

Although it has increased in popularity over the past three to five years, the 3D printing process goes back as far as the 1980s when the first additive manufacturing equipment was developed.

Here are a few of the most creative 3D printing uses so far:


3d printing in aviation industry

3D printing has delivered a lot of opportunities in the aviation and manufacturing industries, with many big names using the technology to their advantage.

The technology has found a niche in aircraft manufacturing – for example, Finnair has used 3D printing for small-batch manufacturing in its Airbus A320 aircraft.

The airline has integrated 3D printed spacer panel parts into its cabins to fill in overhead storage gaps, with the addition of lattices inside the panels.

German industrial manufacturing company, Siemens revealed that it will invest £27 million to open the UK’s biggest 3D printing factory in Worcester in partnership with Material Solutions. The factory, which will explore 3D printing in aviation, should bring in more than 50 jobs as Siemens plans to embrace the growth of additive manufacturing.


3d printing in engineering industry

3D printing has made a huge impact on the engineering industry in a number of ways. The technology shortens the timescale of parts development, with the ability to give a quicker response on how well features work.

British Formula One motor racing company Williams F1 uses 3D printing to create some of the parts in its racing cars, as well as creating parts for models for testing in wind tunnels.

“We use our polymer 3D printers for production as well as prototyping, so the majority of our work is for testing in the wind tunnel, so we’re actually making parts that get bolted on to our 60% model and they go to the wind tunnel to see if they’re functional.

“Other parts we’ll do as fit and form for the engineers to see if the part they’ve designed is what they envisaged on their CAD system,” Richard Brady, Team leader ADM at Williams F1 told Techworld.

BT also began trialing 3D printing in 2017, as a way to turn engineering ideas into reality quickly. The telco has seen a reduction of costs in prototyping tools such as a cable threading needle for making it easier to add new circuits in a roadside cabinet, and a vibrating bullet for delivering fibre into homes.


3d printing in healthcare industry

Healthcare is also being transformed with 3D printing, including in the NHS.

In 2017, the NHS began trialing 3D printed bionic hands for children in partnership with a Bristol-based startup, Open Bionics.

The use of 3D printing for prosthetics means more lightweight designs as well as lowering costs from what is normally priced at up to £60,000 down to £5,000 using a 3D printer.

3D printing has also been used as a way to help surgeons when planning to carry out a transplant as a 3D model can be used in the pre-planning phase of complex surgery. Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust were the first to carry this out using Stratasys multi-material 3D printing technology.


3d printing in archirecture industry

3D printing has revolutionised architecture. We may even see 3D printed houses become mainstream soon. In Amsterdam, architecture firm Dus Architects developed a ‘3D print canal house’ as part of a three year research and design project.

The canal house has each room printed separately before being assembled and stacked to create the house. The KamerMaker, a 20-foot 3D printer, is the product used to develop the house.


3d printing in automotive industry

In the automotive industry, 3D printing has been deployed to revolutionise the creation of vehicles.

The first example is ‘Strati’, an electric car developed by Local Motors which is described as the ‘world’s first 3D-printed electric car’.

It took just 44 hours to print during the 2014 International manufacturing technology show in Chicago, and the car was manufactured using a large scale 3D printer.

Automotive maker Divergent has also developed a new approach to auto manufacturing that incorporates 3D printed joints. This approach, named ‘Node’, involves 3D printed aluminium nodes which are then combined with 3D printed carbon fibres.

The manufacturer has developed its ‘Blade’ supercar and ‘Dagger’ motorcycle using this technique.


3d printing in fashion industry

The fashion industry has also revolutionised the manufacturing of 3D printed clothing and footwear.

In April 2017, global footwear manufacturer Adidas launched a new trainer with a 3D printed sole. It partnered with Silicon Valley startup Carbon to help with the mass production of 3D-printed soles.

Adidas rivals Nike and New Balance have also begun experimenting with 3D printing but have only developed prototypes using the technique.


3d printing in education industry

Creativity and problem solving in schools has been boosted by 3D printing.

In subjects such as engineering 3D printing can be used by design students to print out prototypes; demonstrations of this have already been deployed across some institutions around the world.

Back in 2013, the UK government announced a 3D printer programme to boost the teaching of STEM subjects. Following the announcement, the programme was trialled in 21 schools.

Since then, 3D printing has been deployed across secondary and primary schools to give students the opportunity to design and test their own objects in real life.

The ‘CREATE’ education project was set up in the UK in 2014 to help schools integrate 3D printing into the curriculum by providing teachers with resources, lesson plans and presentations.


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