3D printing has been making waves in the manufacturing arena which is touted as the next big thing to revolutionise consumerism and product development. Just as e-commerce has removed the boundaries for marketing and brought the consumers and producers closer, 3D printing is expected to enlarge the market for producers by removing the shackles of production volumes, minimising the time to market and customising the product as per individual customer needs and all of this at affordable costs.
In the early days of product creation, nuts, screws and hinges were individually hand-crafted for a very long time until the industrialisation era made it feasible to reduce the time to market by mass producing them and have them available in the same size. 3D printing is seen as a disruptive technology that is expected to make the custom component development process less time consuming and more cost effective. Recognising the advantages of this technology, there are some early adopters which include sectors such as automobile manufacturing, healthcare, aerospace, defense, home designers and research labs interested in prototyping the product ideas.
3D printing enables printing of three dimensional products by sending the computer-aided design of the product to the printer which is sliced as required by the software and the design is printed by layering the material part by part until the full shape is formed. The printer enables use of materials such as plastic, metals and polymer and the output has an accuracy of 0.1 mm precision. 3D printing is best suited for rapid prototyping and there is a word of caution on the expectations of quality, strength and consistency for large or repetitive output. With time as more users embrace this technology, and with more research efforts, the technology is expected to be further fine-tuned to enhance the accuracy and predictability of the output.
The best thing about this technology is that whatever may be the size of business, depending upon the specific need; 3D printing is expected to be of advantage. For instance, large automobile manufacturers are using the technology to build prototypes of future models of cars. The Gas Turbine Research Establishment created the prototype of Kaveri jet engine for HALís Tejas aircraft using the same technology. Jewellery designers and home designers could use the technology to provide a much better feel of the final product using this technology as compared to the traditional means.
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