Yes Rob you are correct , it is an excellent idea that 3D printing is not just used for prototyping it is also now used for manufacturing . Creating 3D prited airbus was an excellent idea and it really fascinated me . Now 3D printing is comming towards consumer friendly price points . 3D printing which was initially used for prototyping is now being used in number of industries like aerospace . defense , automative and healthcare etc.
I can see a future niche for using 3D printers for high mix/low volume manufacturing. For certain products, it would be cost-effective for the 'limited edition' version of a product to be printed on a 3D printer.
I also see a niche for 'personalized' products built with 3D printers. A company might take your personal measurements and preferences and built a unique, one-of-a-kind product using this technology.
I was at the midatlantic design conference today. I saw the Baxter robot there. It occured to me that a 3D printer is the perfect accessory for that robot. It was designed to be very flexible and easy to teach a process. However you still need a gripper and possibly fixtures for holding parts for assembly, packaging etc. So they could provide 3D cad files of the end of arm interface or stock gripping mechanism. Then you'd add the necessary shapes required to handle your part to the model, print it, and this afternoon you could be doing a whole new task. What a great combination!
What you are doing sounds incredibly cool and useful, but the thought of 3D printing an airbus gives me the willies. I know machines can be remarkable and people can make mistakes, but I still would feel better knowing the plane was assembled by craftsmen rather than printed by a machine.
Ann, you are correct. I was talking to a small shop just the other day. They have used 3D printing for some types of low rate custom products. They also use a corn stalk based plastic in their 3D printer. I think it was PLA. They gave me a small Tardis model made with PLA. It is very detailed.
On the other hand, there is a point at which injection molding becomes more effective. Even if you use aluminum for the mold, if you have a CNC machine it is generally easy to do.
What is interesting is that there are so many good new manufacturing technologies available. The distinguishing feature of many of them is the ability to interface directly with CAD systems. Using the right manufacturing technology for the particular part will help streamline manufacturing and make it more efficient. 3D can be a big part of that.
Rob, low-volume manufacturing is not a new idea in 3D printing, especially for aerospace, as we've covered before: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=262205 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=258652 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=251526
What a fascinating idea, that 3D printing could become a regular part of low-volume manufacturing. Will there be any quality implications? A prototype is one thing, years of service is a product is another.
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