Does your business have a 3D printing use case? 4 things to know

businessYou’ve no doubt heard of 3D printing. Perhaps you’re well-versed enough in this growing family of technologies to restate a comprehensive definition of 3D printing.

But you’re probably not aware just how versatile 3D printing — also known as additive manufacturing — really is. Even if you don’t characterize your organization as a manufacturing outfit, you may have a compelling business case for additive manufacturing. Yes, even if you don’t plan to sell what you produce.

Ready to take a closer look? Here’s what you need to know about 3D printing, today.

1. 3D Printing Is Not Monolithic

3D printing is not a monolithic process. It’s a broad (and broadening) family of related processes that use a variety of substrates, structures, and printing technologies.

Each 3D printing process has its own strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Polyjet printing uses UV light to solidify liquid resins around washable supports, permitting complex internal geometries and smooth surfaces.

2. 3D Printing Doesn’t Take As Long As You Think

It’s reasonable to wonder how long 3D printing takes. The answer is, often, “not as long as you might think.” To be sure, the precise length of a given 3D printing operation depends on multiple factors, including part dimensions (volume and height are particularly important); part geometry; the 3D printing technology being employed; the quantity of parts being produced in a single run; and any post-processing needs. Straightforward runs often take just a few hours.

3. 3D Printing Has a Vast Array of Applications

The wide variety of 3D printing processes and substrates promises a vast array of applications. If you’re not manufacturing parts for end-users, you can use a more delicate substrate to produce complex cosmetic models or prototype parts. If you’re creating parts for your own use, more durable substrates and processes permit production of high-strength, heat-tolerant tools and molds. If you’re making parts for retail end-users, such as novelty sets or custom models, you’ll choose a process that accommodates intricate detail and attractive finish.

4. You Don’t Have to Sell Your 3D-Printed Pieces

About that retail thing: 3D printing is not solely, or even principally, a consumer-facing technology. Many businesses use 3D printing for prototyping purposes only. Indeed, capable 3D printing partners generally offer a range of value-added services for clients of all types, from artisans and archaeologists seeking detailed 3D-scanned models of bulky objects to reverse engineering services that enable rapid, accurate CAD conversion for iterative development and design.

On 3D Printing, There’s Much More to Come

The pace of 3D printing innovation is accelerating. Every month, we hear about new applications and technological improvements. To take just one example, this paper hints at a vast new area of promise in the field of porous ceramics, which appear amenable to current 3D printing technology and appear likely to attract further industry attention as printing techniques improve.

In other words, if you’re not quite sure how 3D printing technology is relevant to your current business processes, wait a little while. Before you know it, the state of the art may catch up to — and maybe even overtake — your needs.


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