Do you know the benefits of 3D printing?
From ink injection to the shaping of a 2D object to a three-dimensional shape, printing has evolved in just 30 years to make 3D printing more accessible, but ... What are the benefits of this type of printing?
When in 1983 Charles Hull placed a small black plastic cup made in one piece on his wife Antoinette’s hand, he was presenting the next “big bomb” in the field of digital printing. That night, Charles Hull had invented stereolithography (SLA), a printing method to create prototypes prior to chain production.
As a worker in a company that required the manufacture of plastic objects to test models of its products, “Chuck” looked for a more efficient alternative through the direct, layer by layer, creation of the object in question. With stereolithography he managed to create a 3D object from digital data and sowed the germ of a revolutionary type of printing in different areas of our life.
Contrary to traditional production methods, which are subtractive, starting from an excess of material until they reach the shape of the desired object, 3D printing is an additive method, capable of creating a three-dimensional object by adding material from CAD or modelling software. This allowed Charles Hull to patent the stereolithographic method in 1984 and in 1986 he created the world's first 3D printing company: 3D Systems. Since then, other companies such as RepRap or MakerBot have wanted to bring 3D printing to individuals and make known the main advantages it offers, starting with:
Care of the environment: Being able to have an object immediately in the laboratory, company or at home, avoids the long trips these objects previously required to be presented to the end customer. Also, 3D printing saves the amount of material invested in creating prototypes, thus reducing the levels of plastic or disposable material in their manufacture.
Greater customisation: The application of 3D printing is as wide as the objects we want to imagine. In this way, in a unique and personalised way, we can make from jewellery to toys, clothes or even furniture. The other possibility offered by this technology is that from an exclusive design we can makes a serial reproduction.
Cost saving: One of the great advantages of 3D printing is the reduction of manufacturing costs, since it allows a prototype to be developed and its functionality to be determined. That is to say, trial and error is cheaper than with traditional methods since it avoids deficient serial productions. Likewise, cost savings also apply to transportation since the printing process can be done from home or from the company itself.
It improves communication and creativity: Hardly any time passes from the moment of inspiration to the materialisation of an idea; 3D printing enables a wide variety of prototypes to be made and an object to be developed with greater precision before developing it in real size. It also allows multiple modifications to be made, making detected improvements on the go or including adaptations required by the company or end customer.
Multidisciplinary tool: The usefulness of 3D printing for object manufacture is as broad as the industrial and business areas in which to apply it. In addition, this technology offers greater capacity to adapt to possible modifications or changes to an object over time.
In what areas is 3D printing useful?
In medicine, 3D printing has been an authentic revolution thanks, above all, to bioprinting. This has, on the one hand, achieved the manufacture of artificial organs that use living cells as material to print, which reduces the patient’s rejection and opens the door to performing transplants with greater speed and precision. In fact, trials have already been conducted in skin or bone transplants and institutions such as the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine have developed functioning kidneys for animals. Work is even underway on the creation of livers that could be transplanted in humans.
Secondly, the creation of increasingly advanced prostheses both in the field of dentistry, as in the incorporation of limbs (arms, legs, hands) or other parts of the human body. In fact, in 2008, the first 3D-printed prosthetic leg was produced in one piece and without assembly, which opens up personalisation in the development of prostheses adapted to the physiognomy and needs of each patient.
- Architecture and design
3D printing is really practical in a profession where models are essential to determine the viability of structures and construction materials; hence architecture has been one of the first areas in which this printing has been applied. Even the experts say it is possible to use giant 3D printers capable of making buildings with a mixture of industrial waste such as glass, cement and an agent capable of solidifying in just 24 hours.
But beyond architecture, 3D printing can be applied in the field of furniture, toys, clothing or jewellery design. In fact, in 2011 the company Materialise was the first to offer a printing service in 14K gold and sterling silver. With 3D printing, the jewellery sector - but not the only sector - expands its possibilities to create pieces faster at a lower cost and to personalise the models.
In this field, 3D printing is proving useful for the design of increasingly innovative packaging or food product formats, machinery and parts for the food industry and even artistic pastry creations. 3D printing allows, for example, prototypes of products to be created with a specific weight and dimensions to check speed times on conveyor belts, in the case of the food industry; Nasa is already investigating the creation of food in the form of nutritious cartridges that can maintain their nutritional properties for 30 years; and there is even the possibility of creating synthetic meat by bioprinting, an aspect that would considerably reduce the ecological impact of the overexploitation of the meat industry.
- Vehicles and aeronautics
In this field, saving time and manufacturing costs are crucial, but the advantage is also added of making a production sustainable with the environment and 3D printing can do it. In the case of the vehicle industry and aeronautics, 3D printing is already being applied in the creation of pieces with new designs whose quality allows early assessment of the assembly and production requirements.
Some companies like Kor Ecologic have created the Urbee car prototype, made with 3D printing whose ecological footprint is considerably reduced, as well as the use of fuel and production. And the space station also benefits from this technology because the crew can manufacture the parts they require at any time in situ.
The founder of 3D printing Charles Hull points to the great importance that this technology will suppose in generating organic tissues from cell bases thanks to bioprinting. In fact, it will open the possibility of reducing the long waiting times in transplants and even help in the curing of some diseases with high mortality rates such as cancer or other degenerative diseases. The greater accessibility to this technology will also mean the immediate creation of domestic objects within our reach, opening up a wide range of possibilities.