3D printing technology and products made with 3D printing are the latest and one of the most exciting developments in modern fabrication.
3D printers have been gaining popularity in the past few years for both personal and industrial uses and has recently earned the attention as an efficient method of production in business environments. But how exactly is this technology being utilized?
Companies are using 3D printing at various stages of the production cycle, from the initial prototyping stage, through the mass production of products. The reasons for their adoption are many but a few of the most prominent include increased speed, more creativity, and reduced costs.
Let’s look at 5 examples of remarkably successful products made with 3D printing. We will look at what each product is, how the company utilized the technology, and what advantages were gained by doing so.
Nike Vapor HyperAgility Cleat
When playing football, lateral acceleration is incredibly important for players in order to react to the changes on the field and to shift the direction of their movement at a moment’s notice. In the same way, that a race car needs to have sensitive brakes, a football player’s shoe needs to have enough traction to stop him or her in their tracks.
Using 3D printing, Nike was able to prototype and iterate the design of their Nike Vapor HyperAgility Cleat a significantly higher number of times than they would have if they had used traditional models of prototype manufacturing in order to optimize their shoe. Let’s hear from Nike’s director of footwear innovation Shane Kohatsu:
In order to create a cleat that minimized slippage on the turf when cutting, 3D printing again allowed us to test, iterate and create shapes not possible with traditional manufacturing processes, which in turn allowed us to push the limits of innovation faster.
This means that they were able to produce a much better shoe and more quickly. The amazing design was just a side effect!
General Electric’s jet engines
One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is constructing products that would be impossible to build using normal techniques. For example, General Electric has been able to construct working prototypes of jet engines, turbines, fuel nozzles, and other components with intricate parts in miniature.
These products made with 3D printing were later used to test the design viability without using a significant amount of resources in the process. By using digital fabrication, General Electric drastically reduced the amount of time and resources it took to create their highly advanced products.
2000 tons bridge by YLE Engineers
As we’ve mentioned previously, multiple iterations of prototypes are a distinguishing feature of products made with 3D printing. One great example of how this can be helpful for numerous real world applications is the story of a bridge built in Gdansk, Poland.
A Polish engineering company called YLE Engineers used a desktop sized ZMorph multitool 3D printer to create the many variations of the bridge and test its durability until they finally arrived at the design which was implemented successfully. The final structure measures 125 meters in length, 21 meters in height, and 2000 tons in weight. The bridge was built over a double track railway and features a shipping channel underneath.
Jewelry Replicator by American Pearl
Jewelry Replicator is a service by the company American Pearl with a very particular focus that works specifically with the capabilities of 3D printing. The idea behind the company is to 3D print jewelry that customers have an idea for but no money to fund in a traditional way, or to create jewelry that is lost or doesn’t exist anymore except in photos or drawings.
By 3D printing these items, the company puts creative control much more in the hands of the customer. In an industry where creativity is highly restricted by a number of resources for precious materials and the time and energy of highly skilled craftspeople, 3D printing fills a very important niche.
Volvo construction equipment prototyping
Lastly, Volvo has used 3D printing technology to completely retool the design for their construction equipment and engine design with prototypes and products made with 3D printing.
To give a monetary comparison, Volvo’s original estimate for their tooling project for creating articulated haulers was around $9,090. After reconsidering their options and estimating projections using 3D printing technology, the cost dropped down to $909. In terms of time, they cut down prototyping time from 20 weeks to 2 weeks. This kind of resource saving will mean that retooling large engines and producing new models of their products will not only be more cost effective but exponentially faster.
The future of products made with 3D Printing
The possibilities for 3D printing are increasing daily and they only seem like they will continue to grow as the technology continues to develop. As a tool for digital fabrication and production, 3D printing is becoming more and more useful at all stages of development, from the increased capability to prototype designs, to the rapid manufacturing of pieces that are ready to scale. Especially multitool 3D printers, such as the ZMorph machine that the Polish engineers used to iterate the bridge, are a great asset for production-oriented businesses. Even more possibilities like laser cutting and engraving are on the table, and with them comes an increased efficiency as the design process is streamlined through new and exciting technology.
The companies described in this article gained with every product made with 3D printing. Nike was able to prototype their cleat more effectively because they could quickly create and test, create and test, leading to a more optimized final result. GE was enabled to test prototypes that would otherwise be very expensive and time-consuming and thus speed up their product creation timeline. YLE engineers fine-tuned their bridge model and were able to work out any potential problems on a small scale before construction. 3D printing opened up an entirely new niche for American Jewelry Replicator, differentiating them from their competition. Lastly, Volvo also significantly cut down their costs and timeline for prototyping.
With these significant advantages, it is worth considering how products made with 3D printing may be able to help your business.