3D printing has moved from producing parts that look like the real thing, to manufacturing parts that are the real thing. This transformation from purely prototyping to tackling real-world manufacturing challenges is the result of the huge advances 3D printing – now known to many as additive manufacturing or simply ‘AM’ – technologies have seen in the last 20+ years.
Looking at contemporary, state-of-the-art 3D printing technologies such as fused deposition modelling (FDM), selective absorption fusion (SAF) and Programmable PhotoPolymerization or P3 – an evolution of digital light processing (DLP) – it’s clear to see just how far they have come when compared to the earliest commercial systems in terms of accuracy, repeatability and material choice.
These technological developments have in turn led to increasing trust. Whilst, comparatively, technologies such as these are still relatively new in relation to traditional, age-old manufacturing methods, many advanced manufacturers are already trusting 3D printing/AM as a technology able to meet and exceed their expectations. Users trust that the economics of 3D printing stack up against other manufacturing technologies.
End users trust 3D printed components in mission-critical applications. 3D printing cannot replace all forms of manufacturing, but when the application fits the technology, 3D printing should be thought of in the same way as injection moulding or CNC machining: the right tool for the job.
Indeed, it’s a highly competitive tool which is making practical and economic sense for more jobs, applications and sectors year on year. Unfortunately, 3D printing is still all too often spoken about as an ‘emerging’ technology or as some kind of science fiction by mainstream voices and even across the wider manufacturing world.