3D printing, sometimes called additive manufacturing, is an umbrella term for a number of processes used to create a three-dimensional object. A machine, guided by a computer, lays down layers of material into a particular shape.
A CAD (computer-aided design) program is generally used to create the template for a 3D print job, creating the virtual design and all the necessary dimensions needed to create a physical object. If there is already an existing object, a 3D scanner can also be used to create the template for printing.
3D scanners are seeing a surge in use, along with 3D printers. Companies like Microsoft and Google use them in devices such as the Xbox’s Kinect to track movement or in smartphones that use scanners to capture hand movements as command functions. It won’t be long before creating a 3D object will be as simple as taking a picture and downloading it into a 3D printing device. While some models of 3D printers costs thousands of dollars, there are already some cheap enough for home use.
However the image gets into the computer, it is divided into a great many horizontal layers, then sent to the 3D printer. The printer lays down layers of material until a perfect replica of the 3D image is built. Needless to say, this technology has become a big deal in the world of product development.
3D Printed Medicine?
CNN reports the first 3D printed drug to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Called Spritam levetiracetam, this prescription pill helps to alleviate seizures in those suffering from epilepsy.
The pills are made by using a 3D printer to put down precise layers of the component chemicals in the drug until the precise dosages are achieved. Since the layers are so thin, more medication can be placed into each pill without making the pill too big to swallow or too dense to easily dissolve. For patients who have a difficult time swallowing medication, this is a great innovation.
The plummeting cost of 3D printers is a big factor in its widespread growth. These devices can be used with various material types, utilizing already popular CAD software and computer hardware, making it feasible for just about any industry or business to get some use out of the ability to create physical components basically at will.
With a 3D printer, one does not have to be an engineer or have access to a manufacturing plant to get new items — they can just print them in house or contract a facility with a 3D printer of its own. Often, these printed objects are lighter and easier to work with than objects made through more traditional means. Thanks to another rapidly growing technology — cloud storage, templates and images for printing can be easily disseminated, allowing for the rapid development of the best possible techniques to use for any given printable object.
An object like a bicycle no longer has to be built to integrate with all its components, like chains, pedals, and gears. Each part of the bike can be printed and downloaded to exact specification, allowing anyone to put together custom equipment to a degree never before possible. Such processes can be scaled up, as well. A USA Today article even details the creation of a new hybrid transmission. A functional prototype was made from aluminum powder after a day or two of printing.
3d Printing and Product Development
An important step in product development has always been the prototype. Depending on the product in question, the creation of the prototype could take a great deal of time. 3D printing cuts the time involved considerably. Whether creating a functional or merely cosmetic prototype, a printed item makes the product development process a great deal faster.
Imagine being able to take a model of your proposed product to any investors or potential customers long before your product is ready to go to market. That’s the power of 3D printing. The ability to hold something in your hands and actually see it apart from a computer screen or a 2D image on a piece of paper goes a long way toward making a good impression.
Not only does 3D printing save time and money, but it can create products in a way that would have been impossible just a decade ago. Items can be created for an individual customer, ranging from protective gear to prosthetics. Products in development can go through multiple iterations in rapid succession, so all the flaws can be worked out before mass production.
3D printing is undeniably the wave of the future and product developers would do well to take advantage of it. The technology is becoming so commonplace that even inventors who don’t own one themselves can gain access to them — so there’s no excuse not to utilize it to its fullest.
If you’ve got a new product in the works, we’d love to help! We can work with you to create a prototype and then bring your product to market. Request your free consultation with Pivot today.