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EagleTech Column

3D printing offers prototyping, other advantages

By Quinten Kilburn, EagleTech Techxpert
On February 23, 2017

The 3D printer at EagleTech. Photo contributed.

3D printing, once just an industrial prototyping technology, has gone mainstream. It’s being used to create working mechanical models, prosthetics and even custom-fit shoes. The most common type of consumer 3D printing works by melting a material (which could be plastic, metal, or even proteins) almost like a hot-glue gun and “printing” the object layer-by-layer.

At EagleTech, we have two stereolithography 3D printers made by different manufacturers that are usually running all day. We’ve printed simple models (come see our plastic frog army!), useful things like a game controller stand, and even more complicated things like a jointed model hand and a working model crank engine. Students can even come in with their own 3D models and we will print them! Stop in for more information.

The biggest strength of 3D printing right now for consumers is rapid prototyping. 3D printing allows companies to design a product and print a prototype in a matter of hours rather than going through the process of creating multiple molds. 

Architects are able to print models of the building they’re designing so the customer is able to visualize it outside of the digital world. Nike is using 3D printing to prototype athletes’ shoes for a more custom fit to each individual foot, and Under Armour is even 3D printing the actual shoe that consumers buy. The toy company Hasbro is also selling 3D printed products; customers can design their own toys from a database of parts and Hasbro will print it. 

Consumer 3D printing is just beginning, and the future of the field is exciting. However, industrially, 3D printing has been used since the 80s for creating molds, prototypes, and products. 

NASA has been using 3D printing to prototype space shuttles, while Boeing set the record for the largest 3D printed object when they printed a tool to build the wings for their 777x aircraft. Ford has printed over 500,000 automotive parts and molds. They say that it boosts quality, saves money, and “saves millions of lives in the process.” In fact, the automotive industry uses the most 3D printing techniques out of any other industry. 

3D printing has been directly affecting our daily lives and most of us don’t even realize it. It’s an incredibly exciting field and it’s only going to get more interesting. There are companies working on whole cars, houses, and even food. But we’re going to talk about that in next month’s column, so stay tuned.

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