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8 practical ways to use 3D printing

MakerBot Replicator 2 can print 3D described by a computer file

MakerBot Replicator 2 can print 3D parts from a computer file

There are many practical ways to use 3D printing, also known as “additive” manufacturing. Here are several of them.

  1. Spare parts can be made as and where required for an appliance or machine. The file is simply downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. No shipping is needed.
  2. Prototypes are produced to test out products before committing to larger scale production. Designers can quickly go from an idea, described using a CAD program, to a working model. This has been referred to as rapid prototyping and has been around for several decades.
  3. In Lean Production, parts can be produced only as required and with very little setup. When a customer places an order, the components can be produced immediately, with no inventory of parts and immediate assembly or shipping.
  4. Parts that are too complicated for subtractive manufacturing can be produced with additive manufacturing. It has been used, for example, to make wax patterns for investment casting of gyroscope gimbals used in aircraft or spacecraft. 3D printing has also been used to make complex parts for microwave waveguides. The complex internal shapes of the parts can’t be produced by any other means.
  5. 3D printing using laser sintering can create components out of materials that are too hard to create using subtractive processes. Ceramics impregnated with industrial diamonds have been produced, making components that no machine tool could form.
  6. Articles that have a useful function can be customized at low cost. One example is phone cases, which manufacturers can customize according to designs submitted by customers on a website.
  7. Parts that are only ever produced in low quantities can be conveniently produced by 3D printing. Aircraft and spacecraft require complex parts in low quantities and many of their components are ideal candidates for 3D printing. Doctors have used 3D printing to make titanium implants matched to the patient – definitely a one-off part.
  8. Spare parts for military equipment are a very good prospect for 3D printing. Battlefield equipment could have replacement parts produced in the field, reducing the need to carry inventory into the field or forward locations. Even complex or hard to produce parts could be produced as and where required in this way.

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