Francisco A. Laguna & Wojciech Kornacki
This week’s blog explores three-dimensional printing and the industrial implications thereof.
What is three-dimensional printing?
Three dimensional printing is “additive printing”. Traditionally, manufacturers made products in factories by cutting or otherwise removing material to create a particular shape or object. What is revolutionary about 3D printing is that your printer adds layers of materials to create a new object. As 3Dprinter.Net points out, we are entering another industrial revolution, and 3D printers are one of its early arrivals. Virtually, almost anything can be printed by a 3D printer, from toys, engine parts, prosthetic limbs, to houses. Earlier this year, a group of scientists used the technology to create a new foot for an injured duck.
3D printing cuts down production costs and is more environmentally friendly. Currently, we look at a two-dimensional blue print or a sheet of paper with a drawing before we start cutting or drilling. 3D printing allows us to have a digital file with a highly sophisticated design. A 3D printer utilizes computer design software or 3D scanners to analyze the digital file and start 3D printing in less time and with fewer errors.
Why 3D printing may be good for businesses and consumers?
3D printing offers a revolutionary way to make new objects and prototypes for manufacturers. First, it cuts down the time to make prototypes. Next, it also cuts down on the costs associated with it traditional manufacturing methods. According to 3ders.org, one European company specializing in making auto parts incorporated 3D printing into its manufacturing process. By using the 3D printing, the company designed and printed the needed parts in less than 24 hours. Previously, it took the company several weeks to manufacture the right part. The result was that the company saved about 40,000 Euros (approximately US$54,000) in the process, or over 97% of its traditional costs. Lower costs and less time translates into lower prices for consumers.
Many U.S. based companies are keeping up. Lockheed Martin is moving its manufacturing into the 3D printing world and virtual reality. Currently, Lockheed Martin is planning on using 3D printing to make 2 new missile-warning satellites for the United States Department of Defense. Expected costs are about 40% less than what Pentagon estimated originally. This makes Lockheed Martin much more competitive and allows the government to use its resources more efficiently. Also, recently Dell, ordered 5,000 3D printers from Zortax, another European company.
Many Chinese companies are also utilizing 3D printing. A Shanghai-based company 3D printed ten 240-square meter (almost 800 square feet) houses in 24 hours, less than 3 hours per house. According to the IBT, the houses are environmentally friendly and were constructed from recycled materials including glass fiber and construction waste. The 3D printer used to build these houses is almost 7 meters tall (22 feet), 10 meters wide (33 feet) and 150 meters long (492 feet).
3D printing may be particularly beneficial for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Many small businesses and individuals have problems designing and creating their products due to the start-up costs and the time needed to complete the prototypes. This is a significant obstacle for many designers, engineers, architects and other entrepreneurs. Since 3D printing dramatically reduces the costs and time, it is particularly beneficial for small businesses. Recognizing this new opportunity, the UPS began offering 3D printing services for small businesses in 6 of its stores thus far. According to the UPS, 3D printing can be completed in about 4-5 hours, and more complicated objects in 24 hours.
Big and small companies around the world cut down their costs and increase productivity by using 3D printing in their manufacturing processes. As we enter another industrial revolution, 3D printing will only increase. For example a new National Institutes of Health called the NIH 3D Print Exchange contains a library of files that a 3D printer can read and print. The files all relate to health and science; the available files include models of a human femur bone, the West Nile virus and a white matter section of the brain.
It is still too early to determine the potential impacts of this technology on the labor force, on legal issues such as trademark and other IP infringement and on potential criminal or terrorist activity. Contact TransLegal consultants to discuss how 3D printing may be beneficial for your business.