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Advancements in 3D Printing in Manufacturing

3D printing in manufacturing is used in several different industries for prototyping and product design, and even to produce end-use parts. This additive manufacturing technology is prevalent in aerospace, automotive, and medical manufacturing, and has effectively sped up time to production through more efficient design and prototyping processes. As manufacturers continue to adopt 3D printing, innovative ideas and use cases for this technology are leading to advancements within the manufacturing sector.

Manufacturers can apply these advancements in 3D printing to the product design process, the supply chain, and product quality management, among other manufacturing operations. The 3D printers of today are faster and more precise, allowing for new trends such as customization as well as the ability to create new products that previously couldn’t be manufactured. New developments within 3D printing in manufacturing are expanding how this technology is used within the industry.

3D Printing in Product Design

Though there are some 3D-printed end-use products available, 3D printing has so far made the biggest impact on product design and prototyping within manufacturing. The wide availability of 3D printers, including their accessibility at universities and secondary schools, is driving advancements in product design. Manufacturing and engineering students now have additive manufacturing techniques woven into their education programs.

This has led to a new generation of designers who are entering the manufacturing workforce with an additive mindset. These engineers are always looking for ways to improve parts production. They’re using 3D-printing technology to design and prototype new parts while looking for ways to increase production efficiency and/or reduce costs. Or they’re reducing the number of parts needed for an end-use product by combining different product components into one 3D-printed part.

Aside from this new approach to design, there have also been advancements in design software. New software solutions allow design engineers to enter specific requirements for a part. They can specify weight or flexibility constraints, as well as forces working against the part on the end-use product. Once the software produces a rough design that meets the requirements, engineers can create different variations of the design and use 3D printers to create prototypes. This is particularly useful in the aerospace and automotive industries, where the end-use products usually benefit from being made of lighter components while not sacrificing performance. 

Supply Chain Changes

The wide availability of 3D printers has some companies wondering how the prevalence of this technology could impact supply chains. Supply chain disruptions have been negatively affecting businesses and consumers for the past two years. The adoption of 3D printers could bring some much-needed reorganization to the supply chain.

The advanced capabilities of today’s 3D-printing machines are attracting manufacturers, supply chain professionals, and suppliers to additive manufacturing. Manufacturers are leveraging 3D printers to supplement their own suppliers, allowing them to be less dependent on a volatile supply chain. Though not currently a long-term solution, creating parts and products in-house or through a localized supplier allows manufactures more flexibility with their sourcing. 3D-printing capabilities are causing manufacturers to rethink their current supply chains and could lead to a shift in the design of supply chains in the future.

3D printing also makes it possible to customize product options. Being able to manufacture and offer custom options for consumers will require changes to the current supply chain. Either manufacturers will create the customizable products themselves or they’ll have to collaborate much more closely with suppliers.

Customization is already used in the manufacturing of medical devices. Patients often require medical equipment that specifically conforms to different parts of their bodies, such as mouth guards for teeth and orthotic shoe inserts for feet. These customized items existed prior to 3D printing, but now that 3D printers are easily accessible, they’re being used at medical facilities and dentist offices. Healthcare workers can print some medical devices within their own facilities, allowing patients to receive them much sooner than if they were manufactured off-site. This is just one example of how additive manufacturing can change the supply chain.

Improving Product Quality Management

With 3D-printing technologies being used to produce end-use products, there is concern about product quality. 3D-printed products don’t have widely adopted quality standards, and the quality of the products isn’t always consistent. To combat this issue, several companies have developed quality control software to help advance 3D printing and turn it into a viable option for product production.

Using this software allows for quality control of 3D-printed products. The software can ensure consistent quality by limiting the number of designs able to be printed. This limit helps to reduce material costs and save time, as fewer defective products are printed. Though quality control software is great for 3D-printing production processes, the design limit would be a hindrance for 3D prototyping.   

A variety of quality assurance software is available for 3D printing. Some platforms utilize machine learning to analyze design scans and files to mitigate errors in 3D-printed products. Other platforms utilize machine learning to correct 3D-printing errors in real time. Though quality control software for additive manufacturing is a newer advancement, it can help bridge the gap between 3D prototyping and production.  

To learn more about advancements with 3D printing in manufacturing, attend SOUTHTEC. Advanced manufacturing is rapidly growing in the Southeast United States, and this event allows you to connect with and learn from prominent manufacturers within this region.