posted on Jan, 3 2013 @ 06:57 PM
Let me jump in here and give my take on where 3-D printing will go, and where it won't go.
First of all, 3-D printing will never compete with high production machinery that can mold or stamp out parts by the hundreds of thousands a day. Back
in the mid 80s they already had punch presses that could run at 1200 strokes a minute. The Raster and the Minster Pulsar are just two of them. Then
you have multi cavity injection molding machines that can produce 50 small parts per cycle and cycle at the rate of 4 to 10 strokes a minute. Both the
stamped and molded parts can be simple or extremely complex. Some fine stamping dies can produce parts to tolerances of 1/10,000th of an inch or
better. If there is a 3-D printer that can match that speed and tolerance I haven't heard about it yet.
Will there ever be a new technology that will compete with that, maybe, but it probably won't be 3-D printing.
So, where will 3-D printing shine? We are already seeing one area in rapid prototyping. That allows an engineering team to have a working hands on
sample of their design for evaluation weeks sooner than most older methods and much cheaper as well. Especially if that engineering sample would need
to have some expensive tooling custom made to produce it.
Another area will be in the manufacturing of very complex shapes that would take just as long to produce on a 5 axis CNC milling machine as on a 3-D
printer. And, the 3-D printer would be orders of magnitude cheaper than a very complex and high precision machine tool. Back in the days when I ran my
industrial engineering and repair service I worked on high precision grinding machines that cost $500,000 a piece and all they did was to grind
precision bores and outside diameters in parts that were already machined to shape and just needed to be ground to final size on one or more
The final area will be in producing parts and assemblies that simply cannot be made using conventional machining methods. With 3-D printing, if you
can draw it you can print it. Even if it has internal details impossible to produce with conventional methods.
Some of the Objet brand 3-D printers can produce things like a working faucet with all the soft and hard parts in place and in several different
materials all in one pass. While that is not the most efficient use of 3-D printing technology, except for rapid prototyping, it does show off some of
the capabilities of the technology.
So, in the final analysis, 3-D printing will not take over every area of manufacturing, but they are here to stay and have already carved out their
niche in the grand scheme of things.