3D Printing – A Comprehensive Guide To The Rise of 3D Prototyping

3D Printing used to be something of a craze, a short-lived infatuation that was never predicted to become dependency on reality. However, the development of its technology is now becoming essential to the overall manufacturing business. The biggest brands and companies within manufacturing operations are now increasingly dependent and prominent on adopting the 3D Printing industry, due to its increased accessibility and advancement to mass-produce products and there is more scope of what companies expect.

Its popularity has risen exponentially personally and professionally for the past two to three years and is now thought of as an efficient production method for business and operations.

When Was 3D Printing First Heard Of?

3D printing was first known back in the 1980s with the name of “Additive Manufacturing”. No matter what kind of printer you use, a ceramic 3D printer, a 3D laser printer, objects are firstly created from a digital file and then the printer develops and places subsequent layers of material to complete the object. Thermoplastic material is used most in particular which is heated plastic that turns to liquid and solidifies once cooled. It is expected that further materials will be identified that are edible within its development for 3D printing. It is now a common operation used in various stages of mass production.

What Are the Benefits Of 3D Printing?

There are many benefits for businesses to use the 3D Printing industry for prototyping. Although it is often determined that this method is generally used for small-scale solutions, its technology is important for prototyping of products, something that has been utilized for a number of years. Some of its benefits include:

  • Swift Turnaround Upon Request and Delivery – The availability of quality 3D printers allows for the creation of various prototypes for product designs in a shorter timeframe.
  • A Reduction in Costs – The process reduces cost and still allows businesses to meet their demand and objectives.
  • A Wide-Range of Material Choice – The wide range of materials that can be used continues to exponentially grow. Various materials can be used and tested for the production of their parts.
  • Simple and Swift Adaption in Its Iteration – A prototype is not created and used in its first instance. The products used are typically tested and revised before finalization.
  • Speed of Production – Additive manufacturing is faster to develop than traditional manufacturing methods. This, in turn, helps with rapid verification and development. Prototypes usually took ages to design and develop.

Time is money with 3D prototyping. The faster your testing of solutions is complete, the faster the production line. 3D printing has now become an essential technology. There is a low cost of labour as the majority of the printers nowadays only require the press of a button to produce the part with its automatic process.

The 3D Printing Process

Even nowadays, 3D technology in a practical sense is still difficult to understand in regard to what real-world objects look like within all of its glory. Within manufacturing, companies that use 3D printer kits are required to demonstrate finishing products, also known as a prototype, the use of a testing procedure of materials and its final development without utilizing valuable materials.

Scott Crump's original 1980s FDM printer design from US Patent 5,121,329.
  • Step 1 – Preparation: The preparation part before printing is the first step. This is the design of the file that needs printing. CAD software is available to develop the prototypes which can be obtained safely online.
  • Step 2 – The Printing: The second step consists of the printing process. The identification of the materials to use for its testing is the first step immediately before the printing begins. Choose from materials such as plastics, ceramics, metals and other textiles. They are all capable of re-use for its testing to develop that all-finished product.  
  • Step 3 – The Finish – The object is printed and now needs a polish before it can be delivered or presented to customers or clients. You may sand or paint a product to give it that final polishing look.

The Common Types of 3D Printing Technology and Processes

Additive Technologies is the common name used for the vast amount of technology available for 3D printing. Methods typically range from melting or softening the material to extrude layers. There are five popularly-used methods for 3D prototyping:

  1. Stereolithography (SLA) – The most commonly used technology which employs ultraviolet curable photopolymer resin and an ultraviolet laser. These elements help to build the object’s layers sequentially. Each sequential layer has a laser beam traced a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. The ultraviolet laser light helps to solidify the traced pattern on the resin to join it to the next underlying layer. Parts can be fitted with an existing design or plastic prototypes can be printed fresh. The plastic hardens before moving into the next layer. Once all printed, the item is put into an ultraviolet oven to complete the process.
  2. Digital Light Processing (DLP) – Also known as DLP is a printing method used with light and photosensitive polymers. An identical process to stereolithography, however, the difference is the source of the light where DLP’s usually use arc lamps. Each sequential layer is projected on liquid resin where each layer is consolidated as it moves up and down in direction. DLP is thought of as the quickest form of printing as it processes each underlying layer.
  3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – A build plate is used to form parts for every sequential layer, one at a time. A laser is used to sinter the power media. The advantage is that there are no supporting structures needed as it is fully functional on its own.
  4. Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) – FDM is currently the most popular choice of technology method for 3D printing. High in performance, it’s beneficial for engineers and manufacturers due to the components where engineering-grade thermoplastic can be used. Sequential layers are constructed individually from bottom to top. The plastic layer melts and hardens appropriately and moves onto the next layer.  Very useful for prototyping.
  5. Selective Laser Melting – SLM requires specific conditions for successful results. This is a technique which uses high-power laser beams to produce 3D objects. It also helps melt metallic powders. It is usually thought of as a second-hand SLS to melt the material to a solid-dimensional 3D shape. This form is more a preferred method for parts which are extremely durable, strong and complex and the results are ideal and supportive for aerospace, automotive and medical industries.  

So, what are the most common real-life examples of 3D printed prototypes? These examples have been thrown-in as “competition winners”. Competitors must be taken advantage of and it is these example prototypes that are classed as an innovative technology for exceptional manufacturing quality.

Car Racing Prototyping

3D Prototypes are efficient in helping car companies speed up the process of wheel changing within races. Team Penske is an example of being involved within the car industry for more than 50 years that specialise in stocking cars and wheels for racing teams. Winning races requires speed and efficiency, and Additive Manufacturing is what was necessary to stay ahead. Speed of production is essential for automotive manufacturing for its productivity at a lower cost due to mass customisation. For example, the BMW Additive Manufacturing team is now managing more than 25,000 orders every year of 3D printed prototypes. These are manufactured at a rate of almost 100,000 components within BMW.

Jewellery Prototyping

The manufacturing of jewellery transforms into the design of jewellery products. 3D files are printed in plastic before the metals are requested for development of the products. From testing to production, 3D printing increases its efficiency and speed of development with its rapid prototyping concepts. Most common materials used for designers within jewellery is metal. 3D Printing materialises the following materials to develop its products: Brass (Gold, colour and PU plating), Silver (Gloss and high gloss, satin, sandblasted and antique) and Gold (14k or 18k and polishing).

Motorcycle Prototyping

Additive manufacturing 3D printing plays a key role within the production of motorcycles, in particular, electric motorcycles. The process checks the visuals of the design and the parts are printed in full scale. This demonstrates that 3D printing uses additive manufacturing to assist in the reliability of its production right from the generation of the idea to its development. An example development is a firm BigRep created FDM printed 3D electric motorcycles, with its production line reduced to 12 weeks.

Eyewear Prototyping

Eyewear benefits from Additive Manufacturing with the use of different materials for the production of its glasses. The prototypes speed up the production process. The eyewear industry is now growing in demand due to the mass customisation element of 3D printing technology. It is expected to generate billions of dollars every year due to mass customisation. Its production uses power bed fusion for its internal parts and for a smoother surface finish.

Architecture Prototyping

Rapid prototyping is routinely used within architectural companies to save money. It helps initiate the functional, social and artistic properties of projects. Architecture realizes beautiful design and innovation for the development of new things. A model can be tangibly created in any form. It helps build complex shapes for high-detailed designs including interiors and environmental elements and use laser cutting for large floor surfaces. Designers are more prone to using 3D printers to accelerate the design process with faster iterative design. Examples of high-quality architectural prototypes include exterior living and entertainment space such as swimming pools with multiple types of raw material including metal and polyamide. Thus, metal 3D printer helps to construct structural elements accurate for buildings.

Furniture Prototyping

The design process of manufacturing required significant investment. Using 3D printing technology drastically  reduces costs and fast-streamlines the design of products. This helps designers maximise creations and is a sustainable mean to create furniture. With additive manufacturing, designers are able to produce visual models rapidly. It enables companies to focus on crucial aspects of furniture design such as aesthetics, ergonomics and structure. Models such as lightweight chairs and tables, armrests, lamp bases are basic functional requirements and it is the furniture aspects listed which will be used as the driving force in the design of its basic models.

Dental Prototyping

3D printing has revolutionized the dental industry. Dental 3D printers have helped develop applications to fix broken teeth and assist with flossing. Stereolithography is the most common form of 3D printing used with different resin materials. It has helped with the development and design of aligners and night guards, using 3D printing to model a patient’s teeth. It also helps create crowns with resin and CNC technology to carve the porcelain out. The length of processing has significantly reduced from several weeks of development to one hour at a lower cost.

Conclusion

This report aims to illustrate a concrete definition of the 3D Printing industry and how it has become a phenomenon in the global manufacturing business. 3D printing has an old-fashioned name known as “Additive Manufacturing”, which is a process of producing 3-dimensional objects through a digital (or CAD) file. It was a mere dream before technology began to take over operations as a means of maintaining a competitive advantage. Technology is essential to manufacturing business and is a huge dependency on brands and companies and the way they operate for the development of its products. The benefits of 3D Printing have been broadly explained in the report. Briefly, this includes operations that are able to create various prototypes for product designs in a short timeframe upon request all at lower costs. Various materials are continuously being used for testing pre-production. Due to 3D printing technology, prototypes sped up in their development which allows for more time to update designs based on recommendations faster. The common 3D prototypes used within organizations is explained along with the elements used. It is proven that Stereolithography (SLA) and Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) are the two popular common choices of the production line for manufacturers, due to its high performance and the ability for materials to be developed for a wide range of industries such as engineering, furniture and medical. Real-life examples of the key industries which use 3D printing are explained along with theoretical examples who mock production lines to demonstrate the type of products developed. The 3D printing industry is  currently very young within its development in the manufacturing production line. Companies are only now looking at how it will be embedded within their strategy and where to buy a 3D printer. Although companies have invested in 3D printing on a limited scale, there is potential within it, but it currently remains hidden and is still growing as an option. Business leaders must determine how this technology will be invested within their business model, knowing a competitive advantage that it will bring.

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