Today, our Operations Director, Jon Wood, explores the development of 3D printing technology, and its applications across multiple industry sectors.
Although 3D printing was invented in 1984, it has only become better known and prevalent in the last couple of years. With people getting excited about 3D printing their own products at home, and the technology being hailed as the next inject printer revolution, 3D printing technology is on its way to hitting the mainstream. But it’s not just hobbyists, craftspeople and kids that are set to taste the 3D printing revolution – the tech is also making waves across Healthcare, Construction, Real Estate and Retail. Let’s take a look…
3D Printing Technology in the Construction Industry
3D printing isn’t just a toy: it’s beginning to revolutionise Construction. We are starting to see the true benefits and cost savings that can be achieved using 3D printing, particularly in Architecture, as well as on the construction site itself. With 3D printing, we can create everything from small scale models right up to fully finished buildings made via a growing number of materials, from concrete to clay. It’s a key part of building cities and homes for the future.
3D printing was initially used in the development of scale models of buildings or cities, in order to better understand the current and future development scenario, and to add more rigour to future investment decisions around location, building design, and construction. The gradual evolution of 3D printing technology has helped to develop larger printers, and subsequently layers of print, to form vertical structures such as homes and buildings. This has also helped to improve construction quality and durability.
3D Printing Your Home
We are likely to see huge leaps forward in the realm of 3D printing over the next decade. Indeed, your next home could be made from eco-friendly 3D printed materials!
Let’s say you could create your dream home using 3D printing, for less cost and fewer time constraints, would you do it? For most of us, the answer is a resounding yes. If a 3D printed home was going to save you money and time, and quite frankly if it produces near perfect materials on your say so, why not?
3D Printed Food
There are those who speculate that even food could someday be created with this technology. We can already taste virtual food, so why not 3D printed food? Both the potential for virtual food and 3D printed meals, as offered by the ‘Project Nourished’ experience, may have positive implications for the health of our society. Bad food tastes good, as anyone will tell you. Technology could simulate that eating experience, without the calories, sugar and fat consumption that is currently part of the obesity epidemic.
3D Printed Casts
Speaking of 3D printing in healthcare, I recently came across news of a new medical cast, which has been created using 3D printing technology. The 3D printed cast, apart from being pretty cool looking, can apparently adapt to any broken bone, and it allows the skin to breathe whilst offering more flexibility than the existing methods available. Plus, it takes less than 10 minutes to make.
3D Printing in Retail
If 3D printing technology advances to the potential some suggest, what would happen to the manufacturing supply chain if we went to a zero-inventory world on some products?
What would happen to all those factories, warehouses and retail facilities that supported the supply chain? What would happen to that kiosk in the mall with hundreds of mobile phone covers, if a 3D printer was installed and could provide custom covers on demand?
Why would we create them in a factory, ship them on a boat, store them in a warehouse and finally sell them in a store if we could create a better product, for less cost, with no inventory requirement?
The potential for saving materials, and thus reducing the environmental impact of mass product production, by moving production to a more bespoke and customised production line in some areas, is huge. Rather than producing vast reams of products that may never be sold, streamlining production through automation and 3D printing will have huge repercussions. Just as the internet has revolutionised the shopping experience, 3D printing could revolutionise choice, the production chain, and environmental impact. The question, however, remains – what would the effect of this be on jobs, particularly in low-skilled factory positions, and especially in developing economies, where much factory production takes place.
Over the last year or so, there’s been many new developments in the world of 3D printing. Some of the applications being realised with the technology stretch the imagination: a house, car, handgun, and even a liver or ear. If predictions are correct, then these advances represent just the tip of the iceberg for what could be accomplished through 3D printing technology in coming years.