How will manufacturers benefit from 3d printing?
Most of us have known about the advent of 3D printing for a while now. But what the inventors haven’t so far been able to show us is how its application is going to revolutionise certain industrial manufacturing processes. However, forward thinking businesses, such as AFAC, are starting to explore its potential—and now that it’s possible to 3D print in rubber, we can see a great future ahead!
3D printing – what is it and how does it work?
If you’ve seen a 3D printer at work, it’s an extraordinary sight to behold. A template in the form of a computer generated .cad file gives the printer its template. Press ‘PRINT’, and a stream of plasticising powder is fused with a bonding element to form a 3D plastic reproduction of the template. Furthermore, the technology has the ability to recreate complex objects, complete with moving parts—and all to an incredible degree of accuracy. But it’s not just plastic creations that can issue forth from the latest 3D printers. New printers have been unveiled that can create complicated multi-coloured sweets from sugar and chocolate. Just what the world has been waiting for!
To see an amazing 3D print out, take a look at this QI clip.
New 3D printing applications in manufacturing
However, more useful applications might not have the novelty value of spun sugar but they may revolutionise manufacturing as we know it. For AFAC, the eureka moment came when Ryan Mullins discovered that 3D printing in rubber is also available.
Rubber? What’s the big deal?
To date, most 3D printing has used plastic. For AFAC, plastic prototypes are not ideal for demonstrating a wide range of products which are generally made from rubber. The rigid nature of plastic doesn’t adequately show how the rubber and silicone plugs and covers will perform.
However, using a 3D printer to create rubber prototypes represents a game-changer for two reasons:
- For AFAC, the properties of rubber are an integral aspect to the product design and effectiveness of proving concept for the vast majority of its products. In future, we will be able to utilise 3D rubber printing to produce rubber items with varying shore values as a way to provide the fastest and most efficient prototyping service for our clients. Lead times in bespoke product development will be slashed.
- As 3D printing technology advances, costs will fall and its use will become widespread in all areas of mass production. 3D printing in rubber will reduce the cost of custom mouldings production. Tooling costs will exchanged for cheaper printer set-up charges and bespoke rubber prototypes will become available overnight. We’re not there yet, but with advances in the technology to increase the variety of materials and colours available, we will be soon.
3D Printing for designers and product development
For product designers and developers, this represents a massive leap forward. It’s conceivable that one could move from idea to full production in just a matter of hours. And with your own in-house 3D printing facilities, fears about product protection and pirating simply evaporate.
The UK has built its reputation on the extraordinary skill of its niche designers and product developers. 3D printing will hopefully allow more of the subsequent manufacturing to be based once again on British soil. And hopefully, AFAC will be one of the companies leading the way.