How 3-D Printing Will Digitize the Manufacturing Process

From prototyping to finished projection, 3-D printing is revolutionizing the way products including medical devices are made.

April 25, 2016

4 Min Read
How 3-D Printing Will Digitize the Manufacturing Process

From prototyping to finished projection, 3-D printing is revolutionizing the way products including medical devices are made.

Gregory Ojeda  

Since the late 1980s, 3-D printing has undergone several stages of fine-tuning to reach its current maturity level. An additive manufacturing process, 3-D printing has garnered a lot of media attention in the past few years, becoming almost a household novelty thanks to efforts like that connect enthusiasts and hobbyists with 3-D printers from nearly anywhere. In its current state, it offers unique strategic applications that innovators have worked to see come to fruition. And as manufacturing continues to transition into a future where digital reigns supreme, companies are seeking ways of making things better, faster, and differently than ever before.

Three-dimensional printing and additive manufacturing in general present several advantages that are disruptive to traditional manufacturing methods. Where traditional manufacturing requires multiple pieces of equipment and skilled workers, additive manufacturing requires nothing more than a digital file. A computer-aided design (CAD) file reduces time-to-market because parts are literally printed, complexity free. In fact, we are beginning to produce parts and designs that couldn't have been manufactured through traditional means. Some of these parts can even be integrated in end-use products in markets like aerospace, automotive, medical, and energy.

Additive manufacturing enables rapid prototyping, allowing for the creation of a working prototype in less than 48 hours. This speed has multiple benefits, including shortened time-to-market due to continuous thread through production, resulting in more effectively designed products.

Despite the advantages of 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, it also faces industrial challenges in terms of quality and size capabilities of the items being produced. However, over the next five to 10 years, 3-D printing capabilities will continue to grow and change the way we manufacture. In fact, its global market growth is expected to reach $8.6 billion by 2020.

Due to the adoption of new technologies, 3-D printing has the ability to improve our way of life in ways we never even thought possible. Adaptable and programmable additive manufacturing technologies will someday lead to innovations like sun-unfolding solar panels and drainage pipes that grow and shrink with water volume. Even the way we produce food will change with the possibility of on-demand, 3D printed food.

Other advancements changing additive manufacturing include regenerative medicine and using bioprinting nanomaterials to restore impaired or lost abilities. In addition, Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) is a breakthrough additive manufacturing technology that's 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3-D printing. CLIP grows parts instead of printing them layer by layer, making the quality more consistent and predictable than previous methods.

With all of the new additive manufacturing opportunities, manufacturers are constantly exploring new ways of incorporating its technologies into our everyday operations to bring value to our customers. Designers, engineers, and system architects work to conduct cost, material, functionality, and speed tests to more effectively match customers' needs and expectations. These teams are employing 3-D printing technology in manufacturing processes by developing tooling, fixtures, and parts to enable quick interactions and faster design and production cycles. They are developing Design for 3-D Printing (DfX) processes to improve the cost, quality, and speed of the prototype phase.

Companies are already working toward adopting a new generation of 3-D printing that will allow us to move beyond the prototyping process and advance our customization and personalization capabilities.

Three-dimensional printing provides the opportunity to reimagine the entire new product introduction process. It has already transformed the way we prototype, and as 3-D printing moves through tooling and end-use-parts, it will revolutionize the way business is done. Companies are continually working to enable evolving technologies that scale into their operations, while accelerating the pace of innovation and providing value to our customers.

The 3-D printing revolution is changing the manufacturing industry as technology continues to mature and come into its own. Manufacturing companies will continue exploring new ways to design and produce 3-D printed products through connected, digital systems. New software, machines and materials are even making it possible for a large range of customers to use 3-D printing beyond manufacturing, including in classrooms, small business, and personal homes.

With all the advancements additive manufacturing has made over the last few years and with new ones on the horizon, who knows the unimaginable ways in which we'll use this technology in the future?

Gregory Ojeda is director of ecosystem development and strategy and additive manufacturing at Jabil Inc.

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