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Top 5 3D Printing Applications

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3D Printing Applications

Education

Education is certainly one of the top 5 3D printing applications!

For anyone out there who enjoyed The West Wing, you may remember a particular scene where one presidential candidate responded to a question about the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

Sidestepping the landmine of politics there, his answer, though fictional, represents exactly why we find Education to be one of the most exciting applications of 3D printing technology today.

In his answer, said presidential candidate articulated that “the central purpose of our public education…is the preparation of a scientifically literate workforce.”

With 3D printing that goal is certainly accomplished.

More and more schools, within both primary and higher education, have started incorporating 3D technology as a means of engaging students and providing synthesis between scholastic disciplines that are not typically related.

For example, students are able to 3D print their own musical instruments, even architectural and anatomical models.

In these cases students gain valuable experience utilizing both their computer skills as well as their musical and scientific aptitudes.

3D printing offers students the opportunity to become creators and provides educators with increased avenues to engage students and present information.

If you are interested in even more ways that 3D printing is utilized within the education field, check out our detailed article here.

3D Printing Applications

Medicine

Medical applications of 3D printing continue to increase in number and have landed it a definite spot on the list of top 5 3D printing applications. The exciting applications have the potential to truly change the world as we know it. Currently 3D printing for medical purposes is primarily centered on the inexpensive printing of prosthetic limbs. This development is critical since it allows for more custom modeling of prosthetics at a fraction of the cost; allowing for greater comfort for both the patient’s physically and financially.

Additionally, since the mid 1990s surgeons have used 3D printing to print anatomically accurate models. These models give surgeons the chance to have hands on surgical practice featuring a patient’s true internal schematics. In the 90s these models were primarily used in the prep for orthopedic surgery, where there were concrete bony masses that could be replicated. In the intervening years, though the technology has advanced far enough that now multiple surgical specialties have begun using 3D modeling as part of their pre-surgery prep. This application has helped lead to better results for surgeons and patients alike.

However, the truly world changing potential medical application of 3D printing remains in its infancy. Of course we are talking about bioprinting. The idea behind bioprinting is that ultimately doctors will be able to print out complex human organs, greatly reducing the need for transplanted organs. These printed organs have the potential to be more compatible with recipients, thereby reducing the risk of rejection.

We cannot stress enough how incredibly game-changing this development would be for so many people given the incredibly high demand for healthy organs and the relatively limited supply. As the technology currently stands doctors and researchers have successfully printed non-complex organs and tissues, such as individual heart valves. Yet, they are limited both by technological constraints and by the ongoing search for a better biomaterial to use in place of synthetic printing material. However, given the rapid interest and research into this technology we hope that it is only a matter of time before the technology matures and enables us to save so many more lives.

3D Printing Applications

Construction

3D printing stands on the precipice of revolutionizing the construction industry. Currently 3D printing’s foothold in the construction field primarily centers on the planning and modeling stages of development. As 3D printing technology has become more readily available and less expensive, more and more construction firms use it to model and design their structures.  These models made with the help of CAD (computer-aided design) provide the ability to create bespoke designs quickly and inexpensively, which would otherwise be difficult to achieve through more conventional methods.

Beyond this current application many firms are fast seeking out ways to apply 3D printing technology even more directly into the actual building process. Since the late 2000s and early 2010s the potential for incorporating 3D printing to actually produce structures exploded upon technological advancements including the development of concrete 3D printing. While this technology is still new and not standard practice many companies and countries clearly see 3D printing as the future.

The UAE hopes that by 2030 as many as 25% of its new buildings will be developed with 3D printing while the United Kingdom has specifically created a National Strategy for Additive Manufacturing in part to look into the effects of 3D printing on the construction industry. The benefits of 3D printing structures are vast since they enable companies to produce advanced structures at a fraction of the cost without the need for skilled construction personnel, which in many locations is a real challenge.

3D Printing Applications

Manufacturing

We can talk about the top 5 3D printing applications without talking about manufacturing. The applications of the technology have advanced exponentially in the last few decades in this category. In an industry that requires consistency, speed, and efficiency, 3D printing technology was tailor made to support and facilitate manufacturing. 3D printing is especially useful for those who work in the research and development stage of manufacturing. 3D printing allows these individuals to quickly and inexpensively model their prototypes and determine which, if any, are ready for production. This eliminates an incredible amount of time and wasted resources, since developers can alter their designs faster and earlier in the design process.

However, even beyond the development stage 3D printing encourages efficiency throughout the entirety of the manufacturing process. Since 3D printing is an additive process it allows manufacturers to reduce the required amount of raw materials and eliminate large amounts of wasted by-products of traditional manufacturing methods. This is far more efficient compared to the current strategy of buying raw materials in bulk and risking an excess of wasted and costly material. According to AirBus, 3D printing has the potential to reduce its raw material budget by as much as 90 percent.

Beyond raw material management 3D printing has an immense capacity to produce niche production pieces necessary to produce complex products. The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), run through the University of Sheffield, utilizes 3D printing to achieve advances in manufacturing and to solve their client’s manufacturing issues. During its tenure the AMRC has figured out ways to use 3D technology to make protective caps used by Airbus during drilling trials within two days, robot gripping brackets which would have been near impossible to create through other production methods, as well as incredibly heat resistant production pieces like washers and brackets to be used in conjunction with welding. While the AMRC offers a variety of examples which showcase the capabilities of 3D printing in manufacturing, it is by no means the only company out there utilizing 3D technology in such novel ways. The truth is that 3D printing and manufacturing share a symbiotic relationship with near endless possibilities to achieve incredible feats.

3D Printing Applications

Research

The final application that offers some of the most exciting uses of 3D printing technology actually exists in concert with all of the applications that have come before. Of course we are referring to Research. As such a broad field that contains an abundance of different subdivisions we almost excluded research from our list of applications. However, despite its expansive scope the ways that researchers across multiple disciplines use 3D technology offers perhaps the most exciting potential for developments.

Using 3D printing technology in research affords researchers a number of advantages over standard methods. 3D printing is useful in creating bespoke and complex components that then facilitate experiments. For example, researchers have created everything from jigs, fixtures, magnetics shields, vacuum chambers, etc. Additionally, 3D printing affords researchers the opportunity to physically prototype and test even their most complex designs. In the pharmaceutical field, researchers are trying to use 3D printing as a means to test different drugs to bring to market. While, this research avenue is still primarily dependent on advancements in bioprinting, it offers amazing possibilities for pharmaceutical researchers. Specifically, it would reduce the astronomical costs needed to bring a drug to market and could lead to the approval of more life saving drugs, since researchers could quickly test their drugs on actual human biomaterial.

For most researchers though 3D printing’s usefulness comes primarily with its ability to service lab equipment both in a financially and temporally practicable manner. Laboratory equipment is used near constantly and is expected to perform uniformly to ensure consistency across an experiment. Therefore, said equipment requires an incredible amount of upkeep, most of which is expensive. 3D printing offers an inexpensive solution to this conundrum since with it, researchers can quickly and easily service their equipment with precise 3D printed component parts. Given the limited amount of funds devoted to research in the first place, saving time and money is critical to ensuring that researchers can carry out as many experiments as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Conclusion

At the end of the day if you ask ten different people what the top 5 3D printing applications are, you will likely receive ten wildly varied responses. And while that may seem frustrating to those of us from a generation which loves concrete answers, it also represents the true beauty and magic of 3D printing. 3D printing offers us all the opportunity to be designers and visionaries, inventors and artists. Its versatility is its strength and its limits are constrained primarily to the imagination of those seeking to apply it. This list of the top 5 3D printing applications may reflect our beliefs today, but given the speed of developments it may not be for long. And we for one can’t wait to see how the technology is used next.

This post was published on July 17, 2019

The 3D Print Zone
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