The Additive Manufacturing Advantage

3D printing has been slowly revolutionizing the way things are made for more than 20 years.  Especially ripe for this kind of re-engineering are the fields of aerospace, automotive, biomedical, defense, education, consumer goods and electronics. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, creates models, prototypes or end-use products one layer at a time, starting from nothing and adding material. This process represents a radical shift from traditional subtractive manufacturing, where objects are formed by beginning with “too much” building material and carving or whittling it away.

Engine cooling fan made from POM (acetal) using a Stratasys 3D printed injection mold.

Engine cooling fan made from POM (acetal) using a Stratasys 3D printed injection mold.

Consolidating multiple components into one piece, creating complex geometries and combining different materials in one part are all key benefits of using 3D printing in manufacturing. Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric, explained to the Economist’s Greg Ip, about the enormous impact that 3D printing is having on the design and manufacturing process:  “If you can make unique shapes with high-tech materials in a quick period of time? That is worth my time. That is worth a lot of investment.”  (source: Interview with Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman & CEO, General Electric, and Greg Ip, U.S. Economics Editor, The Economist, via Blip.tv)

We are also beginning to see end-use products being 3D printed in small batches. This allows for precise personalization, which affects industries making consumer products all the way to medical devices.

In addition to changing the manufacturing process, 3D printing’s effects are being felt elsewhere in the supply chain, raising new questions for manufacturers and consumers:  When will products be fashioned? How will products be shipped? Where will they be made? 3D printing can make it possible for products to be created on-demand, in small batches, according to individual specifications, then made locally or shipped over very small distances. This represents a very different method than the usual, factory-based manufacturing.

We’re excited to kick off three weeks of stories about the present enhancements and future possibilities for 3D printing and manufacturing,  to further examine the excitement of Jay Timmons, the CEO and president of the National Association of Manufacturers: “From a manufacturing standpoint [3D printing] will revolutionize the industry. It’s really an amazing technology. Just think about the scalability of this. Just think about what we did with microchips, wafers. I remember when computers would take up an entire room.” (source: Malia Spencer, Reporter- Pittsburgh Business Times)

500 toroid housing are produced overnight with a Stratasys FDM-based Fortus 3D Printer.

500 toroid housing are produced overnight with a Stratasys FDM-based Fortus 3D Printer.

We’ll examine how 3D printing is having an impact on several key industries and how different economies around the world are adapting to its opportunities, including a traditional-manufacturing stronghold (China) and an early 3D printing adopter (the United States)  U.S. President Barack Obama referenced the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in his 2013 State of the Union Address, explaining:  “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,"

Join us later this week as Stratasys Chairman and Chief Innovation Officer, Scott Crump, gives a keynote address at the TCT Show + Personalize in the UK.  He will be speaking about how 3D printing is expanding from prototyping to manufacturing. Stay tuned for a full write up and great stories from around the world!

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