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3D Printing: The Future of Production and Prototyping Today

Melissa Shea-Brooks

It is the ability to design something in the morning and have a physical representation of the concept in your hand in the afternoon that is a priceless step forward in product design.”

-Steve Swaddle, Black & Decker

It was the year 1984. In mid July, French inventors Alain Méhauté, Olivier de Witte, and Jean Claude André submitted a patent to the French General Electric Company for a stereolithography process. FGEC claimed there was a “lack of business perspective” and rejected the application. Three weeks later, a man by the name of Chuck Hull submitted a patent for his own design for a stereolithography process that was, in Hull's own words, “a system for generating three-dimensional objects by creating a cross-sectional pattern of the object to be formed.” It was this patent that became one of the first additive manufacturing machines, and is the ancestor to the modern 3D printer.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing today is the processes of taking a digital 3D model and forming it layer by layer until a replica of the digital model is created in the real world. The most common 3D printers use this process on a powder bed with ink jet printer heads. Commercial 3D printers have become more readily available than when they were first invented.

Uses of 3D Printing

3D printing can be used for many possibilities. It can be used for prototyping parts, printing spare parts, or for educational and entertainment purposes.

Prototyping

Have an idea for a product or part that you need to test out, but don't want to carve, sculpt, build, or otherwise make multiple iterations of it? 3D printing will do the building and rebuilding for you. All you have to do is modify your digital model when you discover a flaw with what you printed and print a new part. Depending on the size of your model, it could take a while to print, but not as long as it would take to build the part by hand. Prototyping is what we primarily use our 3D printer for here at Burnett Process, and it has saved us a lot of time and money.

Printing Spare Parts

Lose or break the end-cap of one of your filters? If you have a 3D printer and know the measurements of the part you need, you can easily print out a temporary replacement if you need to use the filter as soon as possible. Maybe a product you have came to you and it's missing a knob or another part. Take some measurements and design and print a replacement part. With just a little effort, 3D printing is a quick and easy solution to a lot of problems caused by broken and missing parts.

Education and Entertainment

There are many ways 3D printers are good tools for teaching kids. You can show them how to use the software to design a toy that they create themselves, and watch them see their imagination come to life by itself. You could also use the printer to create educational toys for children if you want.

Other Industries that Use 3D Printing

3D printing can be used for more than just replacing parts, prototyping, and making toys. Many industries use 3D printing on a regular basis. For example, doctors use 3D printing to create parts for medical equipment, print hearing aids, create dental delivery devices, and much more. They also can print out precise anatomical models to practice and plan surgeries.

The electronics industry uses 3D printing to precisely print smaller more efficient parts for devices. The company Fishman 3D printed parts that were so realistic that their customers couldn't tell the difference between a real production part and a 3D printed part.

The automotive industry uses 3D printing to produce lightweight, more efficient parts much quicker than the traditional metal cutting process could produce. This helps companies reduce production time and costs significantly. 3D printed tools are also used to make ergonomic assembly line tools to increase performance on an assembly line.

There are many other industries that use 3D printers in similar ways. These other industries include:

  • The aerospace industry
  • The architecture industry
  • The commercial product industry
  • The consumer goods industry
  • The defense industry
  • The dental industry
  • The education industry
  • The mold industry

Complications of 3D Printing

While 3D printing is a fantastic modern technology, it is not a miracle. The first hurdle for many people is they don't realize how much work you have to put into a project to get the end result. 3D printing is not saying “I need a solution to this problem” and the printer designing and creating exactly what you need. You need to take precise measurements, design a 3D model in one software, of which there are many to chose from, transfer the model to a different software, print it, and test it. Chances are, it won't be perfect on the first print. This could require you to go back and redo something in your design until you get the perfect fit. However, if you calculate the right measurements and design the model exactly as you need it, you will end up with exactly what you're looking for.

What We Use it For at Burnett Process

At Burnett Process, Inc., we use a Stratasys Fortus 380mc to print prototype parts for our products. A prime example of this is the end cap of our TF-0500 air filter. Have an idea for a design? Maybe have a model or a drawing we can reference? Contact us today to see if our 3D printer can help you.

Many companies have experienced lower costs, quicker production, more efficient products, and many other benefits thanks to 3D printing, Burnett Process included. While it does have its complications, its advantages significantly outweigh them. 3D printing is a marvel that we are lucky to have today, and we anticipate any future capabilities of this technology.



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