The five key 3D printing applications

The five key 3D printing applications

Integrating a desktop 3D printer into your workflow can yield impressive results. Concepts and prototypes can be printed in a matter of hours, multiple iterations produced quickly and cheaply, and complex ideas conveyed through a physical model that team-members and stakeholders can see and touch. So which industries have been the first to embrace this powerful technology?

Here’s a look at five of the ways 3D printing can improve productivity, reduce turnaround times, and give a business the competitive edge.

Product development

It’s vital to get your new product to market as quickly as possible. However, rushing the job can result in mistakes, or not meeting customer expectations. A 3D printer lets you test iterations in a fast, cost-effective manner, adjust designs at almost no additional cost, and fine-tune your product in a matter of hours, not weeks.

3D printed prototype iterations
Design iterations of propellor parts
3D printed and metal cast prototypes
3D printed and metal cast prototypes

Benefits include:

  • Better decision making. 3D print a range of concepts and select the best option during the early design stages
  • Check shape and form. 3D printing a basic model makes it easy to assess the shaping, size and overall proportions
  • Functional prototyping. Test your prototype in real conditions to check functionality, fit and manufacturability
  • Check appearance. Visual appearance can be appraised easily by designers, manufacturers and stakeholders

Manufacturing aids

Production efficiency is vital in a business environment – and time equals money. 3D printing makes it easy to produce jigs, fixtures and other tooling in a short space of time. This results in less variation during assembly and fitting, faster machine setups, and a smoother production process.

3D printed wheel protector on assembly line
3D printed wheel protector at Volkswagen Autoeuropa plant
3D printed tool organizer
Print something simple to keep your workspace in order

3D printing your manufacturing aids ensures:

  • Better quality assurance. Test the accuracy and quality of your manufactured parts with precise gauges
  • Tools on demand. Whenever you need jigs, fixtures or other tooling, you can 3D print them quickly, streamlining the production process
  • Better tool organization. 3D printed organizers are cheap and fast to make, and promote better organization in the workspace
  • Custom-made molds and patterns. It’s easy to make low-run injection molds or lost PLA casting to integrate into your workflow

End-use parts

3D printing can also be used to produce low-volume, customized end-use parts. This offers greater flexibility; enabling businesses to run small batches of parts without the risks involved of manufacturing a larger batch. There’s also scope for ‘printing on the spot’ and creating products for the customer while they wait.

3D printed beskpoke functional part
Create bespoke functional designs
Small batch of 3D printed parts
Or ramp up with small-batch production

Here are other ways that 3D printing end-use parts can improve your business:

  • Create customized one-off parts. FFF manufacturing means you can create cost-effective bespoke printed parts for one-time projects
  • Make replacement parts. With a desktop 3D printer in-house, it’s simple to print replacement parts; cutting out the supply chain and purchasing processes
  • Run smaller batches. Small runs can be created cheaply and easily, without the risks associated with manufacturing in greater quantities
  • Decentralized manufacturing. Take the product to the customer by printing end-use products where they are; providing immediate access to the product they require

Architecture

Conveying complex architectural concepts to clients can be a challenge. 3D printing means that early designs can be evaluated, complicated ideas communicated, and striking architectural concepts showcased with ease. Model-making times shrink from months to days, and even complex geometries can be printed, offering architects even greater creative scope.

3D printed architectural context study
See designs within a 3D context
3D printed architectural concept models
Or choose from multiple early-stage concepts

Other advantages include:

  • Easy production of concept models. Rough models can be printed quickly to establish the project’s direction in the early stages
  • Massing studies. Architects can view a building in its context, then scale up the model with modular 3D printed parts
  • Better presentations. 3D printed to-scale models result in a more impressive client presentation
  • Master plan creation. 3D printing not only offers fine detail, but large volume for planning scale models

Medical

3D models mean that medical professionals can bring patient scans to life; identifying exactly what is required prior to performing a procedure. This results in less time under anesthetic for the patient, and reduced costs involved with the operation.

3D print medical model
3D models from scan data help when planning surgery
3D printed model for patient communication
And communicate to patients and students

This personalized approach to healthcare also offers:

  • Improved surgical planning. Surgeons are well prepared prior to surgery, which impacts overall results
  • Better patient communication. A 3D model means that patients gain better understanding of the procedure – providing them with something they can see and touch
  • Medical instruments. Medical and research devices can be prototyped quickly and easily, and tools can be printed when required
  • Effective clinical training. By 3D printing anatomical models, students gain better understanding of anatomy and surgical procedures


Disclaimer: Ultimaker 3D printers are designed and built for Fused Filament Fabrication with Ultimaker engineering thermoplastics within a commercial/business environment. The mixture of precision and speed makes the Ultimaker 3D printers the perfect machine for concept models, functional prototypes and the production of small series. Although we achieved a very high standard in the reproduction of 3D models with the usage of Ultimaker Cura, the user remains responsible to qualify and validate the application of the printed object for its intended use, especially critical for applications in strictly regulated areas like medical devices and aeronautics.

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