Rapid Prototyping and Tooling
3D printing has the capability to be used to respond too many of the world’s changing megatrends. The physical object is made from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession. With 3D printing it is possible to go directly from digital design data to a final part with no intermediate production steps. 3D printing technologies therefore eliminate the need for tooling and the associated capital investment. The result is that companies that adopt 3D printing can disrupt the traditional economies of scale, by allowing cost-effective production of single-unit or low-volume batches with low-volume part production, products can be customized to local markets, or even to individual customer tastes, driving adoption within industries as diverse as fashion, health care and automotive. Moreover, with the ability to print on demand, businesses also have the opportunity to eliminate inventory and cut aftermarket lead-times by providing digital spare-parts catalogues that can be printed when needed. The smart companies of the future will be those that have a clear strategy for how and where 3D printing fits within their supply chain and their value chain. They will also understand the business drivers to adoption.
From the student’s study to the professional designer’s office, from the dental laboratory to the jewellery retailer, from the aerospace factory to the hospital basement, 3D printers have become invaluable business tools. Applications and reasons are as diverse as the users. What links all these applications and users is one underlying ability: to transition 3D information digitally and seamlessly from the virtual world to the real world with nothing but a computer and a3D printer – from bytes to bits.
The benefits of 3D printing today go way beyond just making models and prototypes. 3D printing is becoming a way of making components, systems and products sold across the supply chain, from the bracket in the aircraft door to the dental aligner in the teenager’s mouth. It can also be used for the manufacturing of tools, jigs and fixtures in addition to rapid prototyping.