3DP Applications

2012 – Top 5 3D Printing Applications by Ari Honka

1. Design work

Design is a broad area and cannot easily be classified as an application, however for me 3D printing offers designers free reign for the first time in history. Ever since humans started making pots and pans in ancient times, someone has been giving thought in their minds how these items should look and function and what materials can be used to make them.

The main bottleneck has always been the making of these items, and the world we live in and the everyday items we use are all manifestations of this constrained manufacturing process. 3D Printing brings the designer’s imagination and the final tangible products closer together, which will transform the way designers can approach their work in the future.

We have been offered just glimpses of this transformational change when you have a look at Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest or indeed something inspirational from Neri Oxman and her plans to print buildings and large structures capable of living and breathing together with the environment they have been built in.

2. Aviation

From my perspective, some of the most intriguing headlines within 3D printing were related to aviation. When you look at this industry from any perspective, whether it be commercial or engineering led, the relationship between manufacturing planes and 3D printing seems to be a match made in heaven.

Some of the players in the industry such as Airbus, shed some light on their future plans and were bullish when they announced their intention to build entire fuselages with giant 3D printers by 2050. GE, the leading manufacturer of jet engine made claims that they will manufacture approximately 50% of the jet engine parts with 3D printers by 2016.

Fascinating insights from both companies, and as mentioned the aviation industry is constantly looking for lighter and stronger materials to use in these complex vehicles for cost savings. 3D printing is seemingly answering many of these issues by reducing waste in materials and enabling more flexible manufacturing processes whether it is concerning the part of the plane itself or the individual parts of the engines.

There was some back up to these stories as well when GE announced two acquisitions bolstering their production capacity. Further on, NASA took the discussion on 3D printing to another level, literally, when they announced their plans for manufacturing spare parts in the future space missions. As always there is plenty of hype in these stories, but there is no smoke without fire. We are certain to see more practical application for developing lighter, stronger and more cost effective airborne vehicles going forward.

3. DIY

Each one of us has got some level of interest in making something tangible ourselves, whether it is gluing model cars together or knitting a jumper for someone as a gift. Perhaps it’s a leftover in our DNA from the old times when you couldn’t walk into a store and pick up your favourite items from the shelves, in any case 2012 saw another record year for new releases of entry level 3D printers aimed at home tinkerers.

A similar kind of process happened also for the consumer 3D software and each month we covered something new in this space. Browser based software and greater separation from professional tools started emerging for the every day use for anyone wanting to get their hands on this technology.

DIY concept took a leap forward this year, I strongly believe in a mass adoption of these machines and software tools in the years to come.

4. 3D Printed Retro

Bringing back old items from the past can be nostalgic. Replicating childhood toys or mending your vintage car with newly made parts that are no longer available, are some of the cool features that can be brought back to life with 3D printers using old designs.

We covered items such as the bioscope and the ever so cool children’s music player from Fisher Price, both something that I played with when I was a kid. Perhaps that is a cool business concept for someone who wish to collect old designs and specialize in creating items from the past, there certainly should be enough interest for a cool niche business – I would certainly be a customer.

5. 3D Printed Chocolate

The subject line certainly says it all, who wouldn’t want to taste a customized piece of chocolate given to you as a gift or design one yourself for the right occasion – enough said I guess.

I wish you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year 2013 and look forward to seeing you again next year!