Analysing the Prospect of 3D Printing Technology

Posted in Operations & IT Articles, Total Reads: 1911 , Published on 20 February 2015

In this essay I will talk about the most significant invention of this decade in the field of manufacturing, 3-D printing. This is also the technology which can truly called as the disruptive technology as, it has the potential to change the way most of the manufacturing industry today operates and also has the potential to solve challenges which are yet not achieved, thus will create a huge market for 3-D printing products. This technology has the potential to entirely change the manufacturing industry. It can also be thought as a next industrial revolution, in which every individual can participate in the process of manufacturing. This will led to the introduction of products according to customization, flexibility and suitability of the customers.

Let’s first understand what 3-D printing is and how it works? It is a technology which can creates 3-dimensional objects by a printer. It works on the principle of additive manufacturing means layer by layer. In traditional manufacturing industries products are created by moulding and machining the raw materials using sophisticated tools whereas this new technology creates object in successive layers. The first step in this technique will be creating the graphic design, a CAD (computer aided design) file of the product with the help of software. Then setting up the printer which will involve filling the right material and connecting it with a computer which can give certain command to perform the specific objectives. Then layers of material in liquid, solid or filament form are deposited onto a “build area” and fused together. The additive process involved in this also minimizes material wastage as it only uses the amount of material required to make various parts of the product. In this technology the more emphasis will be on the design and software simulation of the product instead of knowing the art of making a product.

Initially, 3D printing was developed for prototyping purposes so as to allow designers to identify and correct fault in the early stage which can potentially minimize commercial risk. But with the advancement of technology and quality of material used had contributed in exploring other areas of its application. Now the application of 3D printing can be in almost everywhere like-toys, designer cloths, models, components for vehicles and computer hardware and medical implants. Through this one can also customize their products according to their need and requirements.

Right now it is very frequently used in jewellery and fashion accessory making. Big brands like Nike and Adidas have also employed the process to customise shoes for their customers. It is also quite possible that in future every household has their own 3D printer, which means now consumers are also the producer. This would create huge potential for customisation. Now people will be able to download designs and customize shape and colour before printing them. One can also scan his/her body or feet and print something specially designed made-to-measure fashion accessories.

The other novel application of customization will be in the healthcare devices like artificial limbs and hearing aids. It can minimize material requirements thus eliminates the wastage of precious materials. It has the potential to provide low cost healthcare products which will significantly change the life of people. Currently, printing of prostheses and orthopaedic products are the most promising in the world of 3D printing. It led many professional prostheses manufacturers, to switch from using traditional methods to use 3D printers. Like, recently Marco Avaro, a biomedical engineering company in Italy, has acquired DeltaWASP 2040 system which led in the reduction of prostheses production times from 8 to 2 hours. Even scientists from Louisiana Tech University claim a new way to print drugs, using a 3D printer. According to them this created capsule can be swallowed, and it will also allow doctors to alter the requirement of dosage specific to the patients. There is also hope that 3-D printers could someday produce much-needed organs for transplants like kidney, liver and even other sophisticated organs and fine cells.

A lot of 3-D printed products are already in use in various industry like architectures, healthcare, manufacturing and in aircrafts. 3-D-printed aircraft components are 65 percent lighter and also at the same time as strong as traditional machined parts, which means a huge savings and reduced carbon emissions from fuel. As per kilogram of reduction in weight, results in saving of around US$35,000 in fuel costs over an aircraft’s life. NASA also used parts manufactured from 3D printer in their Mass Rover project. Even NASA has also exploring the possibility of making on the spot 3-D printed parts in its International space station.

By looking at its huge opportunities in diverse areas, it is natural that many entrepreneur will enter into this segments. Even though some start-ups has already come up in making 3-D printers more reliable, friendly and cheaper and also in assisting the manufacturing of 3-D printing products like software, creating designs etc. Still there is huge opportunity left in this market for the entrepreneur to enter into this segment. Once the consumer gets the right kind of equipment, then they can create whatever they wish with a 3D printer. But with the existing software, it is difficult for the average consumer to design a blueprint. This has also led to the launch of companies like 3DLT, Shapeways and Think3D, which allow customers to turn their ideas into reality and also provides templates designed by experts to download.

Companies’ like- 3DLT which provides 3-D printable designs to the consumers. Its design mainly consists of jewellery, eyeglasses, toys, tools and shoes. It is building a marketplace where consumers can get design files from designers to get access to printable goods. In a way it connects consumers, designers and producers through an online marketplace. Another start-up known as Shapeways let the consumer and designers to access printers and materials. Brahma3 a Bangalore based start-up which works in the field of manufacturing 3D printers and provides 3D print services to companies, whereas another start-up called think3D also gives latest happenings and dedicated training sessions to people on the use of this technology.

But with so many positive development of this technology, we can’t negate its possible harmful consequences on society and environment. As on one side we are try to reduce the use of plastics in our daily life but the most popular 3D printers’ uses plastic filament. If 3D printing is going to be industrialized, then the by product or other recycled plastic needs to be reused. There is also a challenge of IP and licensing right for the design and products which can curb the possibility of black market to be created due to this technology. There is also challenge on security due to the manufacturing of printable guns which can even bypass the security scanners. So, the possible use of this technology by the terrorists and other organisation also need to be monitored for a stable existence of the society. There is also a debate about the ethics of bio printing and raises questions like- what will happen when complex 'enhanced' organs involving nonhuman cells are printed? Who will have the control and the right on the production of these organs? Who will ensure the quality and standards for the organs? As scientists have already proposed combining human stem cells with canine muscle cells to create enhanced organ tissue. Even organisation like- Organovo has done partnerships with the National Eye Institute and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences for printing liver cells and eye tissue cells. These developments has posed some serious questions about the nature of this development which demands carefully planned answer. As the debate has already stated about the ethical, moral and legal issues surrounding 3D printing products, but it will inevitably cause a lot more controversy as it becomes more commonplace. In the end, only future can tell us where we will actually land up with this wonderful technology.

This article has been authored by Aashish Godara from FMS 







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