Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s an increasingly practical, cost-effective technology with a dizzying range of applications for entrepreneurs of every stripe.
Think your business has no use for additive manufacturing services? These six useful — and profitable — applications may soon have you rethinking that position.
1. Scale Modeling
Scale modeling is a resource-light way to actualize a finished design in compact dimensions. It’s appropriate earlier on in the development process, before you’re ready to put a prototype in play, and works well for complex or durable designs for which you lack the room or material to spitball at full scale. Detailed scale models double as advertising collateral, as well — nothing sells quite like a miniature version of next year’s model at your trade show booth.
2. Rapid Prototyping
Product and tool design is iterative. If you need to get the next version of your in-process design out to your quality control team yesterday, you can’t afford to wait for your artisans to build it in-house from scratch. A rapid prototyping partner can do the job under budget and on or ahead of schedule — and the “finished” product will look better than you imagine.
3. Small-Run Manufacturing
Also known as short-run or limited-run production, small-run manufacturing emphasizes quality over quantity. If you’re designing intricate parts for limited-run crafts — say, a novelty chess set — then you’ll almost certainly need to execute multiple small production runs. A competent additive manufacturing partner can help you navigate these often challenging trials, then re-set (with any changes necessary) for the subsequent batch.
4. Custom Manufacturing
Custom manufacturing is even more challenging — and, potentially, resource-intensive — than limited-run production. If you’re in the business of making one-off parts, sets, or fixtures for clients, you need a production partner (and a production process) as accommodative as your customer service team.
5. Field & Functional Testing
In the later stages of the R&D process, you’ll need to test pre-market products to ensure they meet your customers’ exacting standards. Rather than waste critical time and resources on subtractive prototyping, use an additive manufacturing partner that’s willing and able to help you iterate quickly if your first test piece isn’t up to snuff.
6. Parts Manufacturing
Recent advances in 3D printing technology have dramatically broadened the range of potential applications for 3D-printed materials. Many small manufacturing shops now use high-strength, lightweight polymers in tooling and molding applications, rather than traditional metal parts. Others incorporate polymer-based parts into precision floor machinery and equipment, reducing tool weight and replacement cost without compromising performance or productivity.
How Do You Use Additive Manufacturing Technology?
Whether you’re a seasoned 3D printing hand or just now tiptoeing into the wide world of additive manufacturing, your business probably stands to benefit from one of the six applications listed here.
Or maybe not. One thing’s for sure: if you can’t yet see your way clear to incorporating additive manufacturing into your production or marketing cycles, just wait. Sure as day follows night, this fast-moving field will catch up to your needs — faster than you think.