Additive manufacturing offers innovations, process improvements, and greater agility to many industries, including aerospace, dental, medical, and automotive. 3D printers are versatile and can produce complex or customized products. Manufacturers use 3D printers in different applications to accelerate innovation, production, or improve the quality of the final product.
Here’s a brief overview of modern additive manufacturing applications and how the technology is leveraged across seven industries:
Additive Manufacturing Applications
Additive manufacturing’s versatility allows companies to utilize 3D printers for various applications across the production cycle. Modern 3D printers bring together durable resins, advanced software, and leading hardware that are designed for specific functions. 3D printing solutions also enable designers to create products with more geometrically complex shapes than alternative production methods in traditional manufacturing.
The following are 3D printing applications:
- Accelerated Prototyping: The speed, diverse material selection, and design freedom make 3D printing an excellent production option for prototyping. Companies can use 3D printers to produce aesthetic and functional prototypes.
During aesthetic prototyping, companies can refine models to evaluate design elements such as shape, texture, color, ergonomics, and size. A single 3D printer can create multiple prototype designs in a single batch, allowing designers to arrive at a final model more quickly. Aesthetic prototyping does not require the final production materials but gives the designers and marketing team a representation of the final product.
Companies can use 3D printing to create functional prototypes to evaluate the function and effectiveness of different mechanical properties. Functional prototypes are produced with production-ready materials, allowing designers to use the prototype like the end product. With the ease of creating functional prototypes, companies can field test earlier, accelerating approval of the final design.
- 3D Printing Tooling: Traditional manufacturing is often limited by the tooling. Additive manufacturing can create tools to improve existing traditional manufacturing workflows. Devices like jigs and fixtures enhance efficiency, allowing workers to repeatedly machine and accurately assemble products. Both jigs and fixtures are designed for highly-specific operations and have unique designs. With conventional machining, making unique or complex designs can require significant planning and time-consuming labor. 3D printing can streamline jig and fixture production by simplifying the production process into one printing operation.
3D printers can also produce thermoform molds for dental applications or directly produce surgical tools. Traditional thermoform molds require considerable machining investment and manual artisanal work to achieve an accurate shape. With 3D printing, all design work and adjustments occur digitally, reducing the labor needs of conventional thermoforming.
- Full Production: 3D printers can produce end-use parts on an industrial scale. In contrast with traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding, 3D printing requires no tooling. With no tooling requirement, 3D printers can produce new parts or products more rapidly. There is also a much lower MOQ and less design restrictions compared with other manufacturing methods. The design flexibility of 3D printing enables companies to make design changes without the high cost.
3D printers can also produce thermoform molds for dental applications or directly produce surgical tools. Traditional thermoform molds require considerable machining investment and manual artisanal work to achieve the accurate shape. With 3D printing, all design work and adjustments occur digitally, reducing the labor needs of conventional thermoforming.
Additive manufacturing is a versatile technology with broad application possibilities. The flexibility of 3D printing allows companies to easily integrate printers into their workflows to optimize production processes and improve product quality.
The following industries successfully use 3D printing:
Dental labs and practices have used 3D printing technology for decades to produce dental devices and models, and surgical tools. Providers produce dental appliances to fit each patient – customized. Traditional device production is a multi-step process that is time-consuming and can be uncomfortable for the patient if an oral mold is taken. 3D printers digitalize the process, eliminating labor-intensive steps and accelerating device turnaround. Using conventional methods, devices like night guards or retainers take longer and need to be recreated manually if the patient loses the device. With a 3D printing solution, the device or multiple devices are directly printed in less than an hour.
Today’s dental 3D printing solutions can create:
- Dental models
- Surgical guides
- Night guards / retainers
- Dental try-ins
- Crowns and bridges
- Dental casting
- Indirect bonding trays
- Gingival masks
- Denture bases
The range of durable materials and customization possibilities make additive manufacturing advantageous for developing medical devices including custom products. Medical facilities can use 3D printers to bring device creation in-house, enabling better patient experiences and rapid service.
Available additive manufacturing applications include:
- Custom medical insoles for patients with diabetic foot disease, inflammatory arthritis, plantar fasciitis, and more.
- Lattice casts are more comfortable, more functional, and are faster to produce than conventional plaster casts.
- Custom medical pillows can help maintain alignment of a patient’s spine and provide optimal support of the head, neck, or other areas with specific shape, firmness, and height / thickness.
- Medical braces are custom developed to support patients as they grow or develop, such as scoliosis braces, or to heal after surgery or injury to the area.
3D printers give footwear companies more control over product designs and accelerate the prototype to the production cycle. Traditional production of footwear, such as injection molding, has tooling needs that require significant time and financial investment. Once a manufacturer completes tooling, significant design alterations are cost-prohibitive. If market feedback leads to a product redesign, it can take months to create new molds and require significant costs to the company.
With no tooling, companies leverage 3D printers to expand design and production possibilities and enable agile manufacturing. Instead of taking months to create new molds for a product change, designers can quickly alter a product’s CAD file and begin 3D printing the latest model. No tooling requirements also enable 3D printing smart factories to offer lower MOQs than traditional manufacturing facilities as a single machine at a site can make many different products. Low MOQs allow footwear companies to make small batches or experimental variants to gauge market feedback. With this information, companies can make more educated decisions on which products to produce at high volume or better meet smaller or niche market demand.
With the ability to easily scale production with 3D printers, a cost-effective low-volume production is now an option for companies. As demand increases, production volume can also increase in-step. Companies can also employ on-
The aerospace industry has a long history of using 3D printing technology to create complex or low-volume parts and custom tools. 3D printing offers a rapid and efficient way to develop uniquely-shaped components without investing in expensive molds and other single-purpose tooling. Aerospace designers can create small batches of parts cost-effectively and on location, enabling more rapid feedback.
The design and production capabilities of additive manufacturing give engineers more control over the physical properties of their components. For instance, weight is one of the essential elements of aircraft design. Reducing aircraft weight makes fuel consumption more efficient. Engineers use 3D printing software to lower part weight through lattice designs or. consolidate parts to simplify the assembly process.
As with aerospace, the energy sector uses 3D printers to create uniquely-shaped parts quickly and cost-effectively. Energy companies use 3D printers to produce turbines, liquid pumps, and other amorphous components without the tooling costs associated with other industrial processes. If parts start to malfunction, 3D printing’s on-demand production capability enables rapid replacement of components.
Notable 3D-printed energy parts include:
- Gas turbine nozzles
- SSD sleeves
- Sand control screens
- Nozzles for downhole cleanout tools
- Subsea chemical stick injection tools
- Sealing accessories
- Perforated pup joints
- Liner hanger spikes
The versatility of additive manufacturing can help automotive manufacturers simplify and streamline the part production process. During the initial design phases, engineers use 3D printers to create highly detailed models that explore different layout ideas. Aesthetic and functional prototyping can aid designers in accelerating final product design. Companies use the on-demand production style of 3D printing to make the application’s perfect amount of products.
Automotive manufacturers utilize 3D printers to produce:
- Engine manifolds
- Air conditioning vents
- Aesthetic bezels
- Gear shift knobs
- Braking components
The diverse consumer goods industry includes sports equipment, cosmetics, and eyewear. Increasingly, companies are using 3D printers to make it easier to bring products from design to production and provide a higher level of customer service delivering cost-effective, customized products. Additive manufacturing technology enables consumer goods companies to continuously improve designs in response to customer feedback and better respond to market demand. The design freedom of 3D printing enables companies to experiment with innovative designs and create customized products that match consumer needs.
Typical consumer goods applications include:
Explore Additive Manufacturing Applications with LuxCreo’s Printing Solutions
3D printing’s versatility and agile production capabilities are accelerating the technology’s adoption in a variety of industries. With applications in dental, medical, footwear, energy, aerospace, automotive, and consumer including sports equipment, the opportunities for additive manufacturing continues to grow. Agile and versatile manufacturing, design freedom, new and better materials, and cost-effective customization make additive manufacturing better than traditional methods and increasingly the desired method for producing new products. From design to prototyping to full production, 3D printing optimizes manufacturing sites for higher efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
To learn more about the benefits of 3D printing, explore LuxCreo’s comprehensive solutions. We offer a variety of printers, software, and resins for multiple industries. Contact us today to discuss which option will best suit your company.