3D printing is a manufacturing process whose scope of application is still underestimated by many. Thanks to the diversity of its processes and materials, additive manufacturing makes it possible to manufacture a very wide range of products. From the industrial prototype to the food product, there is a vast panorama of possible applications with 3D printing.
This form of printing has the advantage of being economical thanks to a shortened design process. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques (plastic injection, milling), there is neither tooling nor assembly, which makes creation faster by eliminating labor and many intermediaries. Manufacturers who use this process can move directly from the idea to the object, that is to say from the 3D model to the prototype in a few hours and not several weeks.
This ability to reduce the time and cost of production is attracting more and more manufacturers who today integrate this technology into their design process. The manufacture of models is one of the first applications of 3D printing. Most often intended for architectural or artistic projects, the model is a miniature representation, concrete and tactile, which allows users to visualize items in three dimensions, thus judge and verify the feasibility of a project.
3D printing has many advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques: saves time – only a few hours with 3D printing against often several days of realization for models in foam or wood. – More economical: 3D printing is much more economical on small and medium series (up to 75%) than conventional molding, machining or assembly techniques.
Better accuracy: more accurate, 3D printing is able to transcribe a design to the micron and allows much more complex forms. Better resistance: whether it is ABS for the FDM process (molten wire deposition) or polymers for laser sintering, the printing materials offer a better resistance than traditional materials often more fragile.
3D printing is also increasingly used in pre-production. It is involved in the design phase of tool parts to improve the efficiency of the industrial production process. In this field, it can reduce production costs by accelerating the manufacturing process of molds, model masters or through the direct manufacture of tools. In fact, the tools are generally pieces made in small series that can be very complex.
With 3D printing, you can manufacture without any constraints of form and time. In addition to reducing the production cycle, printed molds, for example, also have the advantage of cooling the injected material more quickly.
Advantages that have already attracted many companies like Nike who used a 3D printer to design the molds of his Springblades shoes, or Opel who had printed some forty tools for the assembly lines of his vehicles Adam, Cascada and Insignia.
Use in the health sector
After industry, the health sector is the most represented. Additive manufacturing is a booming technology in the medical field, hearing and dental prosthetics manufacturers being the ones who today use this process the most. Hearing care professionals have already been using this technology for more than 10 years now, which has the advantage of producing customized pieces that are perfectly adapted to the patient’s morphology.
While the latter were particularly expensive to produce with conventional methods, 3D printing helped reduce their production cost and shorten manufacturing times. For example, some 3D printers can produce up to 65 hearing instruments in less than 90 minutes. Today, 100% of hearing aids are printed in 3D.
Dental and orthodontic labs are increasingly using 3D printing for accuracy and increased production. According to the 3D printers, it is possible to make dental moldings, gutters, bridges or temporary crowns perfectly fitted to the dentition of the patient. According to the British expert Phil Reeves, in 2010 there are no less than 10 million hearing aids, 500,000 dental implants and 17 million gutters that have been printed in 3D in the world. Without knowing it it is not impossible that you carry objects designed with this technology.
Dentists also use 3D printers to design surgical guides. Once placed on the teeth of the patient, they serve as a guide to put different implants. In recent years, 3D printing has been particularly successful in the field of disability, allowing access to limb prostheses (forearms and hands) very cheap. These extremely expensive devices when manufactured using traditional techniques can be printed for only a few hundred dollars.
Under the impulse of Robohand, a philanthropic project introduced in 2011, a dozen or so associative programs share the plans of their open source prostheses, on sharing platforms such as Thingiverse. Anyone in the world can download the file and print their prosthesis by making their own changes according to their morphology and their tastes. When a person does not have a 3D printer, these networks are responsible for putting them in touch with the nearest volunteer.
Perceived as one of the best ways to improve therapeutic efficiency, additive manufacturing today makes it possible to manufacture customized medical implants. Coupled with medical imaging (via scanner, MRI or ultrasound), it allows to reproduce the anatomical characteristics of the patient to design implantable medical devices perfectly adapted to its morphology.
In 2012, the first implant was manufactured using this process. It was a titanium jaw mandible implanted on an 83-year-old woman with osteomyelitis. In 2014, doctors implanted the world’s first 3D printed vertebral implant. A made-to-measure device that is integral with the patient’s column and perfectly supported on the vertebral endplates. Strong sign of the growing interest for this technique, more than 20 000 medical implants were printed between 2007 and 2014.
While 3D printing is still in its infancy in the fashion industry, many designers have already incorporated this process into their creative process. Due to its potential for customization, this technology is particularly legitimate in this area. By scanning different parts of the body, it is possible to create a garment (dress, jacket, shoe) tailor-made perfectly suited to the morphology of the person.
Fashion designers also see 3D printing as a way to create prototypes cheaply and create very complex shapes that are usually impossible to achieve with traditional techniques.
Finally, 3D printers are great for 3d printing toys like miniatures for gaming. Many of these are able to get into some fine detail which makes them excellent for this type of thing.