Once a novelty pipe dream but now an established technology, 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) is positioned for real, important growth. Remember the early days of 3D printing? We shared a collective excitement for model versions of the Brooklyn Bridge and iconic cartoon characters to adorn our desks. Now, 3D printing is tackling much larger issues and solving complex problems across industries of varying scales.
The basis of 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — is adding layers of materials compounded to make an object. Where cutting and soldering were once required, additive manufacturing gracefully adds layers to build the same type of structures. However, these results are stronger, lighter, more temperature resistant, and require fewer parts.
Applications Showcasing What the Future Holds for 3D Printing
While there are endless examples of 3D printing being used for incredible things, here are a few examples of what the future holds:
- 3D printers have long been able to print rocket-shaped objects, but now companies in the aerospace industry actually printing rockets. Companies like Aerojet Rocketdyne are using additive manufacturing for rocket engine and defense system applications. These companies cite reduced lead times, affordability, and new approaches to design as factors in the decision to use additive manufacturing to deliver hypersonic flight.
- In healthcare, additive manufacturing is also making grand promises. 3D Systems, in partnership with CollPlant, is working on printing artificial tissues and scaffolds, advancing regenerative medicine through the use of rhCollagen as a 3D printing substrate.
- The electric vehicle industry is a similar story. Local Motors Industries, a company with only 130 employees, has already printed a 3D car that has since been discontinued. Now, they’re printing an urban electric shuttle, citing digital design advancements as a contributing factor.
At the Forefront of Evolving Technology
Experts predict the largest industry leaps will happen in the technology facilitating additive manufacturing. Printers will likely become even faster, meaning they’ll be able to work on larger, industrial types of projects. Forbes also reports that MELD Manufacturing has designed machines that allow additive manufacturing in uncontrolled environments, which means they can operate in the field. As a result, they’re more useful in remote areas and enable a greater variety of 3D printed structures.
3D printing seeks to address efficiency problems throughout supply chains as well. Nora Toure, Founder of Women in 3D Printing, writes, “I predict there will be a countless number of companies that have adopted additive manufacturing into their supply chain commercially with a vast majority of products to be produced on-demand and locally (not necessarily through additive manufacturing, but more as a combination of manufacturing tools, including additive manufacturing).”
3D printers will also add versatility in other ways — using different materials, including metal and even ceramics, even within the same machine. Printers will be able to print one object containing multiple materials, paving the way for a significantly widened field of uses.
Autodesk Fusion 360 and Additive Manufacturing
Integrated CAD/CAM software like Autodesk’s Fusion 360 will enable additive manufacturing to soar to entirely new levels. The Fusion 360 team is constantly thinking of ways to improve and enhance the additive manufacturing process. We recently announced a new method for generating additive manufacturing outcomes using generative design. This new method does a better job of meeting minimum thickness requirements, balancing design mass, and minimizing support material — without sacrificing shape quality to be fully self-supporting.
Many leading companies have explored the benefits of using generative design in tandem with additive manufacturing, including Hyundai, Panasonic, and more. Download Fusion 360 today to explore innovative additive manufacturing solutions.