Posted on: 19 July 2019

Will the industry adopt 3D printing?

3D printing is a developing technology that was once only dreamed about in science fiction films, and although it is in its early stages, is starting to take the manufacturing industry by storm.

A 3D “printed” object is created by added layers of material to create an object that has been grown from the bottom up. The printer will usually rely on a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file which will tell the printer what it wants to print, and will  output the object, usually using paper, powder or metal. There are also an increasing amount of materials that can be used to print, including rubber, plastic, edible and even human tissue, which is creating endless possibilities for what 3D printing can be used for.

There are 4 main ways that machine 3D printers work

  1. Selective laser melting or laser sintering
    This is where a laser will be used to fuse together metallic powder, plastic or metal into shape.
  2. Fused deposition modelling
    Plastic or metal wiring is spun out from a coil in layers to create a shape.
  3. Stereolithography
    Ultraviolet-curable resin is built layer by layer which is then solidified by shining an ultraviolet light on the layers, which hardens the resin.
  4. Laminated object manufacturing
    Layers of material are laid down and glued to one another and then shaped with a laser or knife.

How 3D printing became more prevalent

3D printing is actually nothing new in the world of technology. It has existed for around 30 years, but it has only become more accessible in recent years through a price drop. In the 1980s, a 3D printer would set you back around £20,000, however they can now be picked up for as little as £1,000.

The printers would originally just be used to create prototypes, such as moulds, but as the technology has evolved, 3D printers are now being used to create final products, fit for use. Many different sectors are using 3D printers, such as architects, construction, motor, engineering, biotechnology and education. There are of course both benefits and risks when using 3D printers.

Benefits of 3D Printing

Less waste

Traditional manufacturing often involved removing parts of something to create something else, like cutting wood to create a door. 3D printing however, simply creates something from a material, so there is little or no waste created by the printing.

Overheads

Creating something using a 3D printer will only require the printer, the materials and a CAD file to be able to create your product. There may be maintenance costs, but they will be minimal, and using a printer reduces the need to have moulds, manufacturing materials or labourers. You may not even need much space for the printer itself.

Intricate details

If you can create something on CAD, your printer can print it. This means that you can create some amazing designs without having to worry about the intricate parts that could end up costing you more in materials if mistakes were made.

Individuality

Every designer will have their own flair when creating something. A 3D printer can help you print off whatever you want to design, with very few limitations. This means that what you print can have a real individuality to them, and products such as prosthetic limbs can be tailored easily.

Reduced storage costs

As previously mentioned, the only things you need for your printer are printing material and a CAD file. This eliminates the need to have large storage spaces for other materials, which can save you money.

Risks of 3D Printing

Safety

At the time of writing, there are no regulations on 3D printers, which means that you can download any design from anywhere. News broke in 2012 of an American company who had created a design for a 3D printed gun which was downloaded 100,000 times. This means that banned goods could be easily accessed and reproduced.

Harmful particles

Research from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Lyon found that 3D printers released 4 times more ultrafine particles into the air before printing has even begun.  Whilst the effects aren’t known, there is the potential that these particles can lead to health issues for workers in later years. Risk can be reduced by having proper ventilation, PPE for your employees and using materials that are less harmful to humans.

Copyright issues

There have already been files found online for 3D printers which infringe on copyrighted materials. Digital design piracy can be hard to police and if you create your own designs you should ensure that you can protect your intellectual property.

Supply chain issues

Whilst you may not use a 3D printer, a supplier in your chain might do without you knowing. Because parts are so quick and easy to create, you could be unknowingly buying defective products, or products that aren’t fit for use. Keep a close eye on products in your supply chain to make sure that anything you use isn’t counterfeit.

The future of 3D printing

3D printing is a developing technology, which means that we haven’t reached the potential of what the technology can do, but we also aren’t fully aware of the risks.

Experts in the manufacturing industry are excited about the future of 3D printing, especially for the possibilities that are presented in medical and environmental fields.

Manufacturing insurance with Premierline

The manufacturing industry is complex, with a huge amount of risk that needs to be managed. Whilst most risks can be managed, you should make sure that you have comprehensive insurance covers which can protect you against unexpected dangers.

Our insurance experts know that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work for business insurance, which is why they are trained to assess your business’ needs to find the perfect insurance cover for your business. Whether you require printing insurance or engineering insurance we work with some of the UK’s most well-known insurance companies, so our insurance advisers can find you a competitive, no obligation quote.

Source: Zywave – Manufacturing Risk Insights – The impact of 3D printing

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