3D printing has been around for a long time, but not until recently has this technology reached a level where traditional manufacturing facilities are taking it seriously.
The process called “Additive Manufacturing” builds layer by layer and has been seen only as a pure prototyping process until recently. With new materials, better accuracy, various sized platforms and reasonable pricing, it has come to a point where everyone can participate. We are not talking about the hobbyist level, though we probably have to thank them for helping push the technology. They are also, unfortunately, the ones who created a false impression that this is merely a fancy hot glue gun that makes toys.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Autodesk announcing that they are investing $100 million in 3D Printing companies over the next several years. They are also developing their own 3D Printer and 3D Printer software which is open source for everyone to tinker with. (More to come in another blog post about this.)
But what about manufacturing…
Yes: what about manufacturing? Is it just prototyping and a lot of hype? The answer is no, and actually, in a way, you might see “Good old American” manufacturing waking up to glory. This is just the beginning and it is super exciting because as consumers are being more demanding, designers and engineers are looking at manufacturing for help.
Here is an example:
A company is looking for a lot of 100 molded plastic parts. Traditionally you might decide that an aluminum mold would be preferred. The cost of material is not going to set you back too much, and it should hit your doorstep within a few days if you live in United States.
If you are productive, you might have spent those couple days gathering your tooling, and even started the process of programming the job in your favorite CAM program. You could, of course, also have chosen to use a 3D Printer, and have what you see in the picture above for less than $500, before the chunk of raw aluminum even gets delivered. This takes what traditional manufacturing might consider a 5 to 7 day turnaround down to 2 days, letting you keep your CNC machine cranking real parts, thus giving you an extra 3 to 5 days to work on a new project or, if you’re lucky, to work on your back-swing.
It is getting local…
This is really what excites me: you do not need to travel to some showroom or university to see this in action; local machine shops already have this technology.
One example is Staub Inc., located less than 20 minutes from me in the outskirts of “blue collar” Buffalo, New York. Mr. Tony Staub started as many manufacturing facilities around the country did: in a garage. And when he outgrew that, he moved into a Super Duper grocery store location. Over the last 20 years, Staub Inc. has built a high precision machine shop using the latest technology within traditional CNC machining. Adding an Additive Department is not about looking far into the future. It is about offering the latest technology to existing and new customers, while finding use for, and exploring, this great resource.
Conclusion… Manufacturing is taking 3D Printing inside the shop, and I guarantee you, my friend, THERE is where 3D Printing will reveal its true potential. I love it!