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Join the 3D revolution…

revolution

Conservative financial estimates predict sales of machinery, materials and services will reach $20billion by 2020 and even if the analyst’s forecasts are only half right then it’s still a very, very big number.

But why is this market enjoying such unparalleled growth?

The reason is that for the first time ever, we can translate our computer-based ideas into real tangible objects without using traditional production methods. You can draw or scan objects and replicate them using a multitude of plastics, resins, ceramics and metals…depending on the size of your bank balance.

 

Isn’t that absolutely amazing?

In the word of high-tech engineering, innovative companies are adopting 3D printing into their traditional manufacturing processes to speed up development times, reduce costs and improve the functionality of the final item. Engineers are now designing with 3D as a final manufacturing process enabling them to use complex geometries and composite materials to create items that could never be produced by traditional manufacturing means. This is the beginning of true digital manufacturing which will become commonplace as this technology becomes quicker and cheaper.  The development of 3D printed materials is just as important as the printers and it’s already possible to mix polymers in these high end machines to create components with their own individual characteristics on a per job basis.

 

Medical professionals are using 3D printing in ground-breaking procedures. Teeth, bones, skin, complex reconstructions, joints and heart valves have all been successfully created. Prosthetics is being revolutionised and I saw footage this week of a young boy 3D printing components at school to create a new plastic customised hand for less than 8 dollars.

Schools and colleges are installing 3D printers, and children are now learning a whole new set of skills that will create a new generation of highly creative makers who will accelerate the development of 3D. As an example, I recently heard about a class of 8 year olds in a school in Saudi Arabia; they were tasked to design their own aerodynamic racing cars. They printed their models on 3D printers and then tested them in a wind tunnel. What were you doing when you were 8?


The rest of us can join in.

A good 3D printer costs as little as £1,000 but be warned; as with any new technology there are a plethora of new manufactures all trying to gate crash the market. Over 400 in the sub £1,000 price range, which is having a negative effect on the perceived quality, and reliability of 3D printing. There are amazing claims about faster speeds, higher resolutions and more material options, but a close look reveals clunky interfaces, reliability issues and an acute lack of product support.

The respected manufacturers have history in this market. They have gone through the pain the newbies are going through now, but out of the melee, fantastic products will emerge that will massively enhance the capabilities of the 3D printer. Printers will eventually become cheaper and quicker, with a huge range of compatible materials, but I suspect that innovation will come from an established manufacturer as they continually acquire companies that offer ground-breaking technology.

The market for 3D printers in business is growing massively and it’s worth considering that early adopters of technology are seen as innovators by their potential customers.   It’s also worth noting that ‘prosumer’ printers from MakerBot start at around £1000 mark, and these will give excellent quality prints. That’s the same price as a laser printer just a few years ago.

…so becoming part of the revolution is not as expensive as you might think!

 

 


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