The 3D Printing Revolution
For thousands of years, manufacturing has been guided by the same principle. We take a block of material, machine, carve or chisel remove access material from it until we get to the final shape of the product we want to create. It is not much different from a hunter, way back in time, who takes a larger rock and breaks it into pieces trying to make an arrowhead. Even though we are using high-tech machining methods, the underlying principle is basically the same. But there’s been a revolution in manufacturing…
The 3D Printing Revolution
Today, we can start with ‘nothing’ and build an object from the bottom up, only using the material that we need. 3D Printing is so revolutionary because of the efficiency of the process. We start with a flatbed of metal powder, whereby the powder, filament or liquid resin is the ‘ink’. A thermal or UV-curing print head deposits the material, and then other layers or droplets are added until you have thousands and thousands of overprints reaching the final shape of an object. This gives us almost unlimited design flexibility. The beauty of 3D printing is the ability to print it all in one piece. Making a much lighter, efficient and stronger structure than it was able before.
Design Toward Nature
One of the issues with traditional manufacturing is that you physically can’t remove the material you want to remove because the machinery isn’t capable of doing it. Now, that traditionally manufactured part can be taken and fed into a computer program that looks at the loads and the environment that the parts operate, to reveal the true structure so that you can only print material where you need it.
“When Designing for Additive Fabrication, Nature is the Ultimate Source for Design Inspiration”
And what often happens in these optimized designs, is that they’re very curved and organic looking, like they were grown from roots of a tree. There is a reason a tree looks like it does: it’s because of a very efficient structure. Nature is the ultimate designer. Biomimicry and organic design evolve from it and opens up new ways of considering product design.
How the Future Takes Shape
If you look at certain science fiction depictions of what the future is going to look like, with 3D printing, all of a sudden, these things become reality. For example, let’s say today we have a building panel. What if you can make that panel hollow? Then it could be lighter, so it can be taller. It could be insulative, so it could operate more efficiently. Instead of a 100-story building, you can now make a 300 story building. We can now design structures with almost unlimited customization. We can custom make medical components, knees and hips, different for each person. We see cars that are custom designed by individuals versus mass-produced for everybody. If you can dream it up on a computer screen, you can get your dream turned into reality very quickly by printing the part on demand!
Here’s a video including a perfect explanation of how they see 3D Printing technologies impact the future of fabricating almost anything:
Take a few minutes to watch the full video. We’re approaching the point where only our imagination will be our limitation!
Credits for the footage and this incredible video explanation go to Arconic. The company develops and manufactures high performance, engineered products and solutions for the aerospace, industrial gas turbine, commercial transportation and oil and gas markets. EP&S offers unique, comprehensive capabilities, from advanced alloy and 3D printing powder development to advanced manufacturing and qualification expertise.