The world has gone through a lot of technological changes, some of which are realized some years later after the invention. Despite taking time to change the way we do things, the impact is always unimaginable.
Today, another technology is slowly taking the manufacturing industry with a swipe. 3D printing technology, popularly known as Additive Manufacturing (AM), is a revolutionary energy technology that could end the centuries of approach to the design and manufacturing world.
Just as the name implies, additive manufacturing means building products layer by layer, additively rather than subtractive. Subtractive manufacturing has been the order for centuries, and it involves cutting materials from a larger piece of material.
What is the implication of additive manufacturing?
With that being clarified, let us find out what building products layer by layer imply.
Distance is not a limit.
The emergence of the internet made the world of communication a village by enabling sharing of information worldwide without the limit. Additive manufacturing technology is doing the same in the world of manufacturing. Just as one can email a written document and have it printed in another part of the world, an ‘STL’ can be sent instantly to the other part of the world via the internet and printed as 3D.
Move to a more local production
The implication discussed above has enhanced a move to more local production. 3D technology has moved the production closer to consumers. As things seem, in the near future every metropolitan will be manufacturing its own cars, more advanced vacuum-formed plastic designs, and other 3D technology-inspired items. Other products will be produced even at the home level.
Highly customized production
Additive manufacturing is a single tool process and doesn’t require changing the desired aspect of the process no matter the geometry. As such AM processes are excellent in creating customized complex geometries.
Besides, this technology ensures that products are printed on-demand without the need to build new inventories and spare parts. With this, each printing can be customized without the additional cost. The approach of mass customization is leading the world into the new age of industrial design.
For instance, the first 3D printing mobile App, by a French company Sculpteo integrates the work of professional designers with end-user personal data. Such mass customization has allowed users great individualities in everything right from clothes, cars and interior design.
Pulling away production from manufacturing platforms
Whenever you mention manufacturing platforms, we couldn’t help but think of China. Such countries are on the verge of giving up as the world manufacturing powerhouse as manufacturing processes are slowly pulled away from them to the countries where the products are being consumed.
This move has ensured that the global economic imbalance and relying on another country’s surpluses are reducing.
The additive manufacturing process is basically green. Only the materials needed in production are used and this is made easier by the fact that materials are added layer by layer. This ensures virtually zero wastes as opposed to the traditional subtractive manufacturing process where the desired shape is curved from body parts. This often results in the final product leaving behind wasted material chips. This qualifies AM as the most sustainable manufacturing process.
Besides, reduction in mass production means that the emission of carbon waste into the atmosphere is reduced. Consequently, a decrease in the global transportation of goods has a similar implication. This is a great fervor to our natural environment as the fear of the destruction of the ozone layer will soon be a thing of the past.
Ease the costly assembly line in the supply chain
Most companies assemble their parts from factories that may have assembled their parts from the manufacturing industries. This supply chain usually ends up being costly. With the emergence of 3D printing, this supply chain is slowly being eliminated for many products.
The final product or one piece of a final product can be produced by additive manufacturing in one process. It doesn’t require intermediary factories.
New horizons of other industries
‘You can build parts that you can’t create using any other techniques’. This phrase by Ruben Wauthle of LayerWise tells it all.
AM has already revolutionized production in some new industries. For instance, scientists are already using it to create new body parts in health sectors. The LayerWise Company has at one time been in the news for creating printed jawbones and successfully undertook a jawbone transplant.
Besides, there has been a lot of development in the chemistry and pharmaceutical industries. Researchers at Harvard are said to have printed miniature batteries. At the same time, Lee Cronin, a chemist from Glasgow University, is boasting of having prototyped 3D printers. The printer is said to be capable of assembling chemical compounds and printing drugs.
Those are some of the impacts of AM technology from a positive perspective. However, every coin has two sides. Just like any other discovery, this technology also has its shortcomings and they include:
They are limited for mass production.
It is said 3D printing a part can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 7 days depending on the factors such as part size, part geometry, and printing technology, among others.
For instance, the additive manufacturing process is capable of creating 1.5-inch cubes in about an hour. This rate is way below the traditional manufacturing process such as an injection molding machine that is able to make several such parts in a minute.
Even though it is expected that the speed is likely to increase with time, it is very unlikely they will be able to create parts as fast as the molding machines. As said earlier, this process involves adding parts in layers. It is not possible to scan a cured material and recoat each layer at speed comparable to injection molding.
Increase crime rate
With the production being decentralized, we have to be ready to embrace new types of crimes. Remember, with 3D technology you can build parts that you can’t create with any other techniques. Therefore, the likelihood of people discovering new production is very high, and this may include the production of weapons.
Already police forces in South Wales recently identified a criminal gang who were using the technology to produce an ATM skimmer. The same force also warned about the types of guns that can be made on 3D printers.
There is also the likelihood that it can be used to make chemical weapons and illegal drugs. Therefore, as much as we are eager to see this revolution have its full effects, we have to anticipate some bitter disappointments as well.
While this technology has not fully taken centre stage, already the world is smiling at a bright feature. It may take some time to be fully adopted but that is the nature of technological discoveries.
It may be limited for mass production as mentioned but when well decentralized, such mass production will not be necessary. Some people will be printing products within their homes for personal use. What a world that will be!
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