3D printing may seem like an invention for the future, but it is starting to become a reality. It will not be long before 3D printers adorn corporate and home offices, as the pace of development of this technology is increasing all of the time. 3D printing is described as being the process by which a physical object is produced from a digital model that is three dimensional. The 3D object is produced by the printer receiving a file that is produced from a 3D modelling programme such as those made by computer aided design (CAD). This file is sent to the printer and the design is reduced to horizontal layers that need to be created. The layers are printed continually on top of one another until the 3D object is finally created. The ramifications for businesses that produce products rather than services are phenomenal. The 3D printing approach will also have benefits for product modifications, enabling businesses to see what the new product will look like faster.
Writing for the Entrepreneur Handbook in 2014, Misha Vaswani explains that:
“At present, unit production costs are still too high to make large-scale additive manufacturing economically feasible”.
However, Misha goes on to explain that this does not mean that 3D printing cannot add value to small businesses, because it can. One of the ways it can do this, according to Misha is by printing personalised components that can be added to a product that already exists. Another is explained to be the production of small personalised gifts. For businesses that have this as their product type, 3D printing could be an excellent way forward. Misha also explains that prototyping is another excellent use to which 3D printing can be put, enabling a cost-effective approach that is faster to achieve. Spare parts can also be printed by 3D printers. Misha even argues that marketing products like small giveaway products could be generated by 3D printers.
The following video, done by “the creators project” explains to us the possibilities of 3D printing:
If you have decided that a 3D printer will add value to your business, then it is important to be able to select one based on your needs. Misha Vaswani also has words of wisdom to add in this regard, to aid the selection process. So what should you consider? One of the most important factors according to Misha is the quality of output that you hope to achieve. It is explained that products produced by 3D printing so far still show the lines on them from the different print layers that were created to generate the object. However, it is explained that plastic shows this more than metals and composites do. Misha explains that some printers use an approach that cures a resin base material with a laser, and this can be a better option for achieving quality.
Other factors of relevance when choosing a 3D printer according to Misha Vaswani are size and cost. Size is important to think about. Smaller printers are fine for small products, but when products are bigger, then printers will correspondingly need to be bigger to meet the needs of the printing. Cost is relevant on two fronts according to Misha. One is the fact that there is the cost of the printer itself in the first place. The second is the cost of the per unit production, which will also be a consideration, and this can vary a great deal, depending on the ability of the machine to produce units and the speed at which it does so, as well as the filament that is used in the printing process. Some businesses may not want to purchase their own 3D printer, and these organisations may benefit from using 3D printing hubs. This allows the organisation to pay for the use of the printer for ad-hoc tasks that may be required.
3D printing is not just being used to print products. As Misha explains it is also being used for all kinds of other ground breaking activities. Perhaps one of the most exciting is how it is being used for the creation of organ tissue. Even more exciting is the fact that this type of printing has already resulted in products that have been used for reconstructive surgery in people. If you think your business does not need or could not benefit from 3D printing then you may want to think again, as 3D printing is really pushing the boundaries further every day.