3D Printing in Industry 4.0
The beginning: 3D printing, or additive manufacturing
Three-dimensional (3D) printing, often known as additive manufacturing, is defined as the process of constructing a 3D object based on a computer model (often created in programs such as CAD or similar). Depending on the type of machine used (called the 3D printer), these computer models are typically ‘printed’ in layers, using a certain type of material that is deposited and bound by the printer, resulting in a fully tangible 3D object.
In the early days of 3D printing, polymers were the main type of ‘ink’ used by printers, though nowadays it’s common to find machines capable of working with ceramics, rubber, and even metal. Whereas in the beginning, the technology was mostly used for rapid prototyping, today it has found wide applications in various industries, production environments and systems. The latter include industrial manufacturing, just-in-time manufacturing, and manufacturing of high-end items that require a large degree of customization.
3D printing in automotive
3D printing has now moved on beyond the hype status it enjoyed in the past decade and has become a useful tool in several sectors. One of the first production environments to widely adopt 3D printing technology was automotive manufacturing, where car parts and even entire design prototypes were 3D-manufactured to check their dimensions, look and fit prior to finalizing the designs. The availability of 3D printing technology has now revolutionized the industry as we know it – offering new avenues to innovation and customization and prompting the discovery of new materials that increase manufacturers’ competitiveness.
Advantages of 3D printing in Industry 4.0
Utilizing 3D printing is clearly a very advantageous strategy for building out new product prototypes and testing how they may work, look and feel, not only in the automotive industry but in many others. The technology allows manufacturers to cross all their t’s and dot all their i’s before proceeding with the more definitive stages of production, where more permanent (and expensive) materials may be used.
The main benefits of manufacturing components using 3D printing include the low cost, the ability to test concepts inexpensively through trial and error, a faster time to market, and perhaps the most valuable one — the customizability of products based on customer demand and rapidly changing trends.
Additional industry applications of 3D printing tech and apps
Today, 3D printing has wide-reaching applications across industries, markets, and operations. In biomedical and healthcare, it is now possible to 3D-print organic tissue, bones, cells, and organs – an innovation that will have far-reaching implications in the years to come. In retail and wholesale, 3D printing is used to quickly make consumptives and other parts that are subject to frequent breakage and repairs. In transport and logistics, 3D printing can be used to make custom protective cases that allow for the safe transfer of highly sensitive cargo.
Unlike other sectors, in industrial manufacturing, the applications of 3D printing tech are virtually limitless – from custom-producing faulty or broken machine parts to making custom molds to accommodate various customer orders – most production companies today are investing in flexible, high-end 3D printing machinery that can use a variety of raw materials and accommodate different computer design models.
When it comes to the daily usage of 3D printers, the goal of most organizations is to either simplify design or quickly produce parts, components, and items they need on an ad-hoc basis. This can be a significant advantage in today’s fast-paced reality where business goes to those who can react the quickest and offer the best quality and value for money.
Choosing the best 3D printing solutions and apps
There is a wide number of 3D printing applications available today for all types of industries, models, and products. The app and model format you will end up using largely depend on what your 3D printer of choice supports. Autodesk, Materialize, Statasys and Siemens all offer 3D printing software, though, there is certainly space for new players in this industry. If you are interested in developing custom software to serve your own manufacturing facility’s needs, or to offer to other industry players, then working with an experienced app developer is paramount.