3-D Printing

Mechanics and engineers have been using 3-D printing for several years.  Prototypes are printed during the Research and Design (R&D) phase as it is cheaper to print one prototype than have to pay to manufacture several only to find out that specifications may be slightly off.  Today more than 20% of goods printed by a 3-D printer are not prototypes, but actual products.  And it’s estimated that by 2020, this will rise to 50%.1

The process of using 3-D printing in the manufacturing industry is known as “additive” manufacturing whereby the manual construction of a prototype is known as “subtractive” manufacturing.  This is because utilizing software to print a prototype saves a lot of retooling costs that would otherwise eat up a large portion of the R&D budget.  3-D printing also saves time and raw materials since the printer is more precise and more efficient than cutting, molding, soldering, etc. by hand.

Not only does 3-D lower costs, but it also lowers risk associated with developing a new product.  Before, a manufacturer would have manufacture and sell hundreds and even thousands of a new product just to recoup the R&D and manufacturing costs.  With 3-D printing, the break-even point is lowered substantially.  This is good for consumers as well as more unique products may be brought to market for consumption.

Another cost savings of 3-D printing is the reduction of scrap waste.  During the normal manufacturing process, sheets or coils of steel may be used and the edges are considered scrap after the shape of the product has been cut out of the sheet/coal.  With 3-D printing, you hit a “print” button, much like a typical ink-filled printer we use today at home.  However, there is no scrap because the 3-D printer prints in layers, and only uses the raw materials necessary to make the object.

This article mainly discussed the 3-D printing of airplane parts, but there’s no telling how far this new technology will take other industries as well.

The world of 3-D printing is pretty amazing.  I was pretty impressed with the concept and found that it has opened a lot of doors for a lot of people.  Hobbyists such as jewelry makers can utilize a 3-D printer to print their designs.  What was once a hobby can perhaps turn into a small business.  And an architect at MIT is experimenting with the possibility of printing buildings!  In her experiment, the 3-D printer is able to print layers of concrete for the building construction.

Furthermore, human organs have even been printed with a 3-D printer!Ten years ago, a young boy was given a printed bladder.  The bladder was printed using a combination of synthetic, biomaterials and the boy’s own cells.  The boy would go barely go outside for recess and had been on dialysis for ten years went to become captain of his high school wrestling team and is now majoring in Communications at the University of Connecticut.  His quality of life improved drastically due to 3-D printing.  Other 3-D organs are currently undergoing testing before being approved for transplant.

In summary, I think the possibilities are endless.  It’s hard to believe that this technology has actually been around in manufacturing for at least ten years, but it’s not hard to see that it is taking off rapidly (and with great success) in many fields.  It’ll be exciting to see what comes next!  Which industries do you think 3-D printing may have the most impact on?


  1. http://www.economist.com/node/18114221

2. http://blog.ted.com/2011/03/07/printing-a-human-kidney-anthony-atala-on-ted-com/


13 thoughts on “3-D Printing

  1. In the last few years hobbyists have really gotten into desktop 3D printing. You can build your own for about $500, and the result is nothing short of amazing. You can print 3D puzzles, small parts to fix your broken car, tools, picture frames, etc. They’re great for the creative person around the home to make fun things like this: http://blog.makezine.com/2012/12/17/3d-printed-advent-calendar/

    Where this concept gets dangerous is when people start to realize its nearly unlimited potential. Recently, its come to the attention of the 3D desktop printing community that there has been interest in printing plastic weapons that could be undetectable and thus illegal according to the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. In theory, someone with enough knowledge and patience could build one that would work according to CNET (http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57558213-76/the-undetectable-firearms-act-and-3d-printed-guns-faq/). The scary thing to me is that we may never even know.

    On the bright side, another possibility is reconstructive teleportation. Basically, the setup consists of a 3D scanner on one side, and a 3D printer on the other. Connect the two over the internet, and the possibilities are endless. Need designer jewelry on the quick and cheap? Order online and print, you could have the item within the hour. Forget the prototype for the big meeting back at home? Just scan it and print.

  2. I’m not someone that works in a manufacturing industry, but 3-D printing seems to be an amazing advancement in technology. I can only imagine that more time, effort and money will be dedicated to this somewhat new, but advanced technology. I would suspect more and more manufacturers and product developers are looking to use 3-D printing as a strategy to gain a competitive advantage in the market. I’d be curious to know more of the downsides to 3-D printing. I can only imagine that the cost to automate this 3-D printing are high, and a lot of time in research and development is needed.

  3. As the population continues to increase, the problem of organ donor shortages also increases. The possibility to not only “print” organs but also blood vessels and bone material is a very exciting medical breakthrough. After reading Trista’s post, I read another article regarding medical 3d printing and it said that drugs can also be embedded into patients so the body has a lower chance of rejecting organs. Bone printing is still in the lab but, this technology can only reduce bone graphs and allow patients to recover quicker. As with any new technology, there are risks, but in my opinion the pluses far way outweigh the minuses.


  4. I had always known about 3D printing’s advantages for rapid prototyping and reduced time and waste. Jay Leno once wrote an article about using a laser 3D scanner and printer combo to create impossible-to-find replacement parts for his antique cars. But all of this pales in comparison to the idea of being able to “print” replacement body parts. It does seem that the uniqueness of each part that needs to be created and the layered construction really makes it a perfect fit. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before actual “living” organs (ie. liver, heart, etc.) can be created.

    The downside to 3D printing is time (since it builds layer upon layer) and cost (compared to mass-production of a product). Plus, I heard that they really get you on the cost of replacement cartridges. : )

  5. I find it incredibly fascinating how technology advances so fast and can come up with such amazing tools. The timeline of out advancement over the past 30 years is exceptional alone. Just to put things into perspective, internet became public in 1989 and only because popular after several years of launch. That was only 20 (or so) years ago! Several years ago smart phones were deemed unnecessary but today it seems like everyone has one. Now we come to this revolutionary item that can print real, intricate, and strong products. It absolutely amazes me that we are in an age where we are able to print organs. As this technology continues to advance, it seems like the future possibilities are endless. I believe that manufacturing industries may rely heaviest on this printer as it will become extremely easy to fabricate a product and just copy the design without requiring several machines to build it. Prototypes can be made and tested in real time which will also decrease the amount of downtime between a product’s designing phase and the product going on sale. Ultimately, I look forward to what this printer will be able to do in the upcoming years.

  6. This post made me think more about the idea of 3-D printing. I came across this article because I have been reading and watching videos on this concept over the past few months. I think it is so interesting. I am glad I read this post because while I knew 3-D printers made objects such as tools and baseball bats, I had no idea they could produce human organs! That is crazy. It is important to see how technology is continuing to improve. I hope that more concepts like 3-D printing evolve in order to make our lives as business professionals all the more efficient. Technology efficiency can improve our work environments through the tools that we use in order to accomplish our tasks or come up with new ideas related to our specific industries.

  7. There was recently a 3D printing pen on Kickstarter, it is a sort of hot glue gun. Instead of glue it is a plastic, you just plug it into a power socket and can start drawing anything within minutes. It can be used to create jewelry, everyday objects and 3D models. In the past people used to make their own things, and then industries sprung up and instead of making our own stuff or fixing the things that break we would just buy it. Maybe now with 3D printers we will move to a DIY movement, lets say your water heater broke instead of buying a new one you could simply print a new part for it.


  8. I agree with you. I think the 3-D printers are a great invention. Technology is growing so fast and the fact that we can print 3-D models of objects is just amazing. I think these 3-D printers will help many different industries including electronics and architecture. Companies will be able to simply print out models of projects to present to potential investors. An object that one can see and touch is definitely more convincing than some picture on the screen.

  9. The first time I heard about 3-D printing was in my management information systems class. It was fascinating to see this amazing new technology. It blew my mind that more than 20% of goods printed by a 3-D printer are not prototypes, but actual products and it’s estimated that by 2020, this will rise to 50%. This statistic is important because 3-D printing will affect manufacturing firms, especially small businesses more efficient by increasing productivity and reduce costs. However, I found myself wondering about the pros and cons to the use of 3-D printers. One benefit it will bring is for medical advancements. There have been great medical breakthrough with the ability to print human organs and this is crucial because human organs are extremely in short supply. On the other hand, some are encouraging printing guns amidst new gun laws. This is important because one must always consider the benefits as well as the consequences and if the benefits outweigh the harm.

  10. I agree that 3-D printing is an incredible technology. I am quite grateful that our technology has advanced this far and that it is available to our society. There are endless possibilities in the use of 3-D printing. It would definitely help a lot for companies in developing prototypes of a product. The prototypes themselves do not have to be printed in with its actual materials, but rather with plastic or a cheaper material. Doing so can greatly help in deciding on and finalizing a product’s design. Perhaps companies can even have prototypes for the consumers to see and feel to ultimately decide which one they would like to see on the market.

    In addition to the comment on rebuilding organs, not too long ago (in March) there was an article about a patient who successfully had 75% of his skull replaced. This was able to be because of 3-D printing. The article can be accessed here: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/150354-75-of-a-human-skull-replaced-with-3d-printed-material

    I’ve personally seen 3-D printers printing objects in action. It is pretty darn amazing watching an item being printed, layer by layer, right in front of your eyes.

  11. The possibilities really are endless if organs can be printed! This would be groundbreaking for medicine because more lives will be saved sooner. If the patient’s own cells can be used then it it simple to print what they need uniquely for them. The fact that the printer can also reduce waste is crucial for operations management because that will lower expenses significantly. It reminds me of baking cookies in the sense that the scraps left over from the cookie cutter can still be used to create more product.

  12. I have been very intrigued by 3-D printing since the first time that I heard about it which was around 2 years ago. At the point, the only thing I knew was that they can make replacement parts for airplanes almost instantly on a as-needed basis. I thought this was incredible and a huge advancement in technology. However, after reading the comment by Lewis, I see where this can be very dangerous and maybe the idea of desktop 3-D printing is not the best idea. This being said, I do not see why manufacturers and health institutions cannot utilize this amazing technology.

  13. I found this article very interesting because I am fascinated with 3-D printing. It is no longer just a prototype machine. 20% of products are actual products and by 2020 it will rise to 50%. Wow that’s a lot! And companies can really benefit from 3-D printing, such as cutting costs and making then process more beneficial to them. Not only does it lower cost but it reduces scrap waste. the company can save a lot of money! This process seems beneficial to the company.

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