Could 3D printing transform your industry in 2016?

Can you imagine driving a car where all of the components used to make it have been printed? It might sound fanciful today, but it isn’t as outlandish as it may seem. 

Companies in the automotive sector have been trialling and adopting 3D printing technologies for a number of years, and with the tech and materials required becoming more and more affordable there can be no surprise that the first 3D printed car will go on sale this year.

A vast array of materials and products, from carbon fibre and glass to electronic components and pharmaceuticals, can now be printed in a 3D format; creating financial and time savings that are essential for any start-up heading into this exciting new tech frontier.

With a whole host of industries set to be changed forever in the coming months and years, could 3D printing revolutionise your business landscape in 2016?

In the beginning

Believe it or not, but the components of 3D printing have actually been around for quite some time – since the 1980s in fact. That seems quite surprising given the contemporary feel of the technology, but many larger companies, particularly those in manufacturing or engineering and with the resources, have implemented the tech already.

But it is only today, with the falling costs of the printers themselves and the materials they use, that 3D printing has become a solution available to the many, rather than the few.

Read more: How to futureproof your business

Andy Millns, director of 3D printing outfit Inition, has suggested that the main reason for the increased implementation of the technology is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), a low cost solution commonly used in manufacturing for the purposes of creating models and prototypes. This platform is open source, and so start-ups of all shapes and sizes can adapt it to their own unique requirements. “It [FDM] was an explosion in the number of people having access to machines, with the software tools following quickly behind,” Millns said.

“The UK has a strong calibre of design and artistic skills and this is going to create business models as it opens up a new world of design.”

3D Printing: Real world examples

Quite simply, the capabilities of 3D printing ensure that your company can benefit from its ‘off the shelf’ benefits, but actually – when you dig deeper – you might be able to identify opportunities that 3D printing offers your specific business or industry, whether its reduced production costs, more efficient turnaround times, improved economies of scale... the list, and possibilities, are almost endless.

Some industries will benefit more readily from the technology than others, and that’s simply down to the end use, but 3D printing is a solution that many can take competitive advantage from.

Here are a few real world examples:

Aerospace – FDM is used in prototyping, manufacturing and creation of tools. 3D printing creates parts that are resistant to temperature changes, chemical imbalances, UV light and environmental effects, and don’t readily absorb moisture.

Architecture – Comprehensive architectural models can be constructed in-house directly from CAD inputs. This is essential in pitching for commissions (helping the client to better visualise the ‘end product’), but also in minimising the time and resources spent on creating traditional models. 3D printing technology is available to reproduce more intricate detailing as well.

Automotive – Nearly the complete build from start to finish can be completed via 3D printing technologies. From concept modelling and prototypes to parts, tools and finishing, a vehicle can go from conception to production in a more time-efficient manner.

Medical – Practitioners are able to design and construct medical solutions using 3D printing capabilities. Both medical and dental products can be manufactured with bio-friendly materials – from hearing aids to dental implants. 

These are just four examples, but the scale of 3D printing in the modern industrial world is becoming vast.

What 3D printing can do for you

The application of 3D printing solutions is widespread, and while you may not think it relevant to your start-up you might just be surprised at the benefits it can bring when you think outside the box. OK, so if you own a pet shop then you might not be able to implement 3D printing technology, but you get the idea.

Here are just five ways in which it can be integrated to save money, reduce production times and maximise profitability.

Ideation/Prototyping

Have you found yourself frustrated by the amount of time it takes for concepts to come to fruition? 3D printing can help with the ideation process by delivering faster prototypes; perfect for pitching for new business and creating a tangible product that an investor can become excited about.

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Testing

In engineering and manufacturing so much time is wasted when a prototype is produced and it quickly becomes clear that the product will fail the myriad of aesthetic and function tests that will be placed upon it. 3D printing produces more accurate prototypes faster, so key commercial decisions can be made in a shorter timeframe.

Reduced costs

CNC milling is often a costly and time-consuming process. 3D printing shaves hours off for more efficient lead times, and the materials used are cheaper to produce. It’s a double win.

Design efficiencies

Problems in the product life cycle can occur at the design phase, and yet 3D printing would eliminate these by creating a physical product, rather than merely a set of technical drawings. Issues can be eradicated, and solutions to existing business headaches can be trialled and sought more effectively in this way.

‘On demand’ manufacture

We’re leaping into the future a bit here, but it is looking increasingly likely that ‘on demand’ manufacturing will become a reality. Could your start-up cope if a competitor could get to the market almost instantaneously?

Faster, stronger, better? 3D printing looks set for a mainstream roll-out in 2016, so now is the time to start brainstorming how you can implement its many efficiencies in your business.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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