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3D Printing

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of creating 3D objects from digital files. The creation of the object is done using something called an additive process. Although 3D printing is a recent development, starting in the 1980s, the 3D printing industry is a fast growing one, with estimates of it surpassing $21 billion in revenue by 2020.

3D Printing Process

3D printable models are created on computers via software such as Computer Aided Design Packages, 3D scanners or photogrammetry. Once completed, the 3D model file, usually formatted in .3ds, .dae and .skp, has to be converted into a .STL or .OBJ file.

The next step after that is for the file to be examined for ‘’manifold errors’’, examples of such being surfaces that are not continuous or gaps in the model. Then the model needs to be processed through software called a ‘’slicer’’, which reduces the model into thousands of horizontal layers.

The 3D printer reads every slice and creates the object, blending each layer. This is called the additive process, as mentioned earlier. Depending on various factors, such as size and complexity of the model, the printing can range from a few hours to several days.

Industry Use

3D printers are on the market with varying price ranges. They generally start at around $2,000 going up to $500,00 for high-end models. Despite the high start up costs of 3D printer, they usually end up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for manufacturers, especially for research and development.

One industry where the use of 3D printing is well utilized is in the automotive industry. It was one of the first industries to adopt 3D printing, and nowadays it is slowly becoming an integral part of their processes. The automotive industry is beginning to use 3D printing to verify designs, check functional parts that are used in test vehicles and for concept models. It is estimated that 3D printing in the automotive industry will generate $1.1 billion by 2019.

Another example of efficient use of 3D printing which has been cost effective is Nike, as they use 3D printing for prototypes of their shoes. In the past, Nike would spend thousand of dollars and wait weeks for prototype, but with the advent of 3D printing they can now save time and money in making their shoes.

3D printing is a fast growing industry, which is helping many sectors with innovation and saving costs. The industry is expected to grow very quickly in the coming decades and will make a big impact in the direction and future of many industries.