3D Printing Industry Benefits
by Christian on Sep 14, 2023
3D printing and additive manufacturing have become well-established technologies across multiple industries. And it’s for a good reason — they provide designers, manufacturers, and other professionals with unprecedented new opportunities and benefits.
Yet, although some advantages — such as lower production costs and lead times — are universal, many other benefits are more specific. What exactly do 3D printers have to offer various industries?
In this article, we look at the most significant benefits 3D printing brings to the most significant industry segments that have embraced it.
For engineering and product design, 3D printers enable rapid prototyping, allowing companies to produce detailed and functional prototypes in-house in a matter of hours. In the best-case scenario, a firm might be able to run through multiple design iterations per day. This vastly shortens the time to market, allowing companies to roll out new products much faster. Engineering shares this benefit with practically every other industry.
Another great advantage is enhanced design freedom. Additive manufacturing and 3D modelling can produce complex shapes — such as latticed, hollow, or bone-like structures, that are impossible to realise through traditional manufacturing techniques. Companies are able to design better performing and more complex parts, thanks to 3D printers.
3D printing also enables in-house low-volume production. Firms can produce small batches of intricate parts that would not be cost-effective through traditional methods. They can cut lead times and avoid costs associated with outsourced production.
Common 3D printing materials in engineering and product design include:
- Draft filaments and resins, such as PLA, that can create intricate prototypes quickly.
- Durable materials, like Nylon and engineering resins, for end-use parts, including jigs and fixtures.
- Flexible materials, including TPU, to simulate rubber in prototypes.
As with engineering, enabling in-house production greatly benefits manufacturing businesses. 3D printers allow them to avoid outsourcing costs and deliver products at enhanced speed. This benefit applies to both prototyping and manufacturing end-use-ready, high-performance parts.
Another shared benefit is the improved freedom of design. Manufacturing companies can create more complex parts with improved performance than what traditional manufacturing allows. They can combine 3D printing with advanced computer simulations to discover ideal geometries for their parts.
3D printing can also work hand-in-hand with conventional manufacturing. It enables rapid tooling, allowing firms to manufacture unique moulds, jigs, fixtures, and even spare machinery components on demand and in-house.
Common 3D printing materials in manufacturing include:
- FFF filament reinforced with carbon or glass fibres that can be strong enough to replace metal components.
- High-performance and resistant materials, like PA or PC, for functional components.
- Transparent and high-detail resins for appealing consumer goods.
The most significant benefit additive manufacturing offers to automotive companies is on-demand part production. Manufacturers can practically eliminate outsourcing and storage costs while significantly cutting lead times to produce more complex components. Some firms, like Porsche, also use 3d printers to make otherwise out-of-production spares for classic vehicles.
Like general manufacturing, automotive companies benefit from the possibility of rapid tooling to cut expenses and lead times. For example, companies can print moulds for body panels at a fraction of the cost and time expenditure of traditional manufacturing — if they don’t print the panels directly.
3D scanning can help automotive companies quickly digitise even entire cars into accurate 3D models. They can combine this data with 3D printers to quickly design ideally fitting prototypes and functional parts.
Common 3D printing materials in automotive applications include:
Aerospace companies around the world have embraced the light weighting capabilities of 3D printing. A lighter aeroplane is more fuel-efficient and performs better. Thanks to 3D printed components’ high design freedom, manufacturers can optimise parts for structural integrity and weight with novel geometries.
Hand in hand with light weighting, 3D printers have enabled part consolidation. Consolidating multi-part components into one allows manufacturers to cut weight, streamline supply chains, and reduce assembly costs.
Low-volume production is commonplace in the aerospace industry. With 3D printers, manufacturers and researchers can cost-effectively produce minimal volumes of parts without expensive tooling, thus lowering manufacturing costs and accelerating research and development.
Common 3D printing materials in aerospace applications include:
- Carbon fibre-reinforced materials for flight-ready, lightweight, and durable components.
- High-detail resins and filaments for cabin accessories, like seat body panels.
- Nylon SLS powders for heat-resistant functional components, such as engine parts.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals can benefit from in-house, on-demand production of medical appliances. This allows hospitals to cut production costs and lead times, simplifying their supply chains. At the same time, patients can enjoy faster and cheaper healthcare.
3D printers enable a high level of customizability. The CAD models can be tailored to perfectly fit patients’ bodies to produce comfortable and durable medical appliances, such as prosthetics.
3D printing can also help medical education. 3D printing coloured, realistic models enables medical students to better understand human anatomy. Accurate models based on 3D scans of the patient’s body also help surgeons prepare for complex operations and better care for their patients.
Common 3D printing materials in medical applications include:
- Biocompatible resins that can produce drug delivery equipment, surgical guides, and other biosafe devices.
- Flexible materials, like elastic resins, for form-fitting, wearable medical devices.
- SLS powders for durable, impact-resistant, and detailed personalised prosthetics.
3D printing’s popularity has exploded among dentists in the recent years due to the technology’s ability to cut costs and lead times in dental appliance production. By bringing appliance production in-house, dentists can offer faster and cheaper care — which the patients appreciate as well.
3D-printed appliances also come with the bonus of increased manufacturing accuracy. Manual dental moulding is error-prone and unreliable in terms of repetition. Combined with dental 3D scanners, dentists can produce accurate appliances over and over.
Dentists and their patients also benefit from the customizability 3D printing offers. Dentists can easily adjust the CAD files and print new, properly fitting appliances as a patient’s treatment progresses.
Common 3D printing materials in dental applications include:
- Dental resins that can be used to print guards, crowns, or even complete dentures.
- Draft resins for printing accurate dental models for thermoforming or training.
- Medical resins for creating tight-fitting drilling and surgical guides and templates.
Although unique handmade jewellery will always have its place, jewellers can benefit greatly from the small-scale mass production 3D printing enables. Using high-detail, clean-burning wax resins, they can quickly create dozens of casting patterns for rings, pendants, and more in a matter of hours.
3D printers’ enhanced design freedom allows jewellers to design more intricate jewellery with tiny details and complex geometries that would be extremely time-consuming or impossible to create by hand.
CAD files can be easily customized to match client wants and preferences — even turning a mass-produced model into a unique one. Combined with rapid prototyping, jewellers can design and create personalized test pieces in hours to ensure perfect design and fit.
Common 3D printing materials in jewellery include:
- Castable wax resins for detailed patterns that are immediately ready for investment casting.
- High-temperature resins for creating heat-resistant master patterns for jewellery.
- Draft resins for highly detailed prototypes and demonstration models for fitting.
3D printers offer artists, sculptors, and architects significant time and cost savings through faster design cycles. They are able to 3D print highly detailed prototypes or even large-scale weather-resistant architectural elements in hours to communicate their vision and ideas.
The freedom of design that comes with 3D printers can help artists and designers explore their creativity in completely new ways. By incorporating daring geometries and novel materials, they can create prototypes, movie props, and end-use products — like trainer soles — that weren’t possible through traditional working methods.
The ease of customization 3D printing enables is also a welcome boon to the artistic industries. Fashion designers can quickly produce unique accessories and clothing for specific clients, while architects can revise building concepts and prototypes in minutes.
Common 3D printing materials in art and architecture include:
- Draft filaments and resins for prototypes and demonstration models.
- High-detail resins for producing accessories or architectural concept models.
- Flexible materials, like TPU and elastic resins, for wearable products.
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