Manufacturing Engineering

3D Printing: Meet the Technology That Is Changing Manufacturing

In the decades since the first 3D printing patent was awarded in 1986, manufacturers have watched the technology evolve from a novelty to a potentially transformative process. It has the potential to change the way manufacturers turn ideas into physical objects. Precise and economical, 3D printing is already a powerful tool that engineers and manufacturers can use to create prototypes and validate designs.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

3D printers function just like common ink printers. The printer receives instructions from computer software to deposit a specific amount of material at predetermined locations. Instead of dispensing ink, however, the extruder head on a 3D printer deposits a physical material, usually plastic.

The device creates three-dimensional objects by depositing one layer after another until the object matches the conceptual specifications. When it is finished, the team can hold in their hands the actual object that they conceived on paper ‐ or in their minds.

Why 3D Printing?

3D printing is an excellent solution for low-volume production in situations that require only a few parts. It is also incredibly valuable when it comes to creating early stage prototypes for manufacturers who need to test or validate a design.

Because they don't require a large investment in molding equipment, 3D printing is an economically sound option for many small-scale production situations. The technology enables engineers or manufacturers to bring an idea to life, hold it in their hands, examine it in the real world, and, possibly, put it to immediate use. What will you create?

What Are the Main Benefits of 3D Printing?

3D printing is changing the manufacturing process by providing an alternative to the usual methods.

Traditional manufacturing is a subtractive process. People or machines remove material until only the desired part remains. 3D printing, on the other hand, is an additive process.

A 3D printer adds the exact amount of material the job requires precisely where it needs to go — and nowhere else. This limits the waste produced, so manufacturers save time and material creating prototypes.

The cost-effective precision of additive manufacturing positions 3D printing as a potentially industry-changing technology. As the technology continues to evolve, today's manufacturers are putting 3D printing to work creating prototypes, validating designs and experimenting with low-volume production.