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3D Printing Gets Real

Data analysis is another area where full-spectrum color can offer tremendous value. It can be difficult to visualize the output of a finite element analysis (FEA) if you’re only looking at the data on a flat computer screen. Better to have a color-coded physical model you can examine and pass around the room. Thermal analysis, stress/strain analysis, geological analysis, and more can now be applied to a physical 3D model in multiple colors, vividly representing data for better understanding.

Improved printing resolution means better application of colors than ever. A company selling soft drinks can now design and print various versions of can labels directly onto a can model with enough detail to read the ingredient list and scan the bar code. A high-resolution, full-spectrum color 3D printer can be purchased for as low as $24,900.

Education

3D printers are proliferating in schools, helping design and engineering students — the innovators of tomorrow — gain experience with advanced technologies they’ll use in their careers. 3D printing at the Royal College of Art, for example, has “enabled students to quickly obtain 3D physical models at a fraction of the previous price so they could receive more feedback earlier in the design process,” said Martin Watmough, manager of the institution’s Rapidform digital manufacturing facility. “As a result, there was suddenly every opportunity for multiple iterations. Communication improved dramatically, resulting in significantly improved designs. The transformation was remarkable.”

3D printers help ensure that large classes can successfully handle all the prototypes needed to complete final projects. Other disciplines, like art and medicine, are also finding value in 3D printing sculpture and biology models from CT scans. And, finally, middle schools are gaining access to 3D printing through special programs, entry-level price points, and 3D printer kits that students build as part of the course work. “Students can now design and test their ideas instantly, making these machines invaluable in the classroom,” said Dave White, an advanced design and technology skills teacher from the UK.

Beyond Manufacturing

These applications just scratch the surface of what a 3D printer can actually do today. There’s a big world of 3D printing beyond the engineering workstation and the manufacturing company.

• Architecture firms like Foster + Partners create beautiful, accurate building models in a fraction of the time of handcrafting them. And Myles Burke enhances their buildings with lifelike models of people.
• Entertainment companies like Pixar use 3D printing to develop characters for their animated films.
• Mass customization pioneers like Cubify.com provide the consumer with a meeting place to create and make in 3D, and designers and apps developers with a marketplace to monetize their skills and designs.
• 3D mappers like LandPrint.com generate 3D maps on demand, transforming satellite imagery into physical 3D landscapes, relying on the speed, affordable materials, and multicolor capability of its 3D printing technology.
• Hospitals like The Walter Reed Army Medical Center are using 3D printing to save lives. Doctors are improving the success of delicate surgeries by using 3D printed models as a roadmap for treatment.
• Scholars like those at Cornell University and China University of Technology are preserving ancient artifacts and heritage buildings.
• Anthropologists like those at the University of Western Ontario are identifying the human remains of missing soldiers, providing comfort for families.

As you can see, 3D printing has become a signature capability for the world’s highest-performing organizations in engineering and beyond. It’s putting their designers and engineers in a better position to align their goal of great design with the goals of their organization. They can explore more ideas while saving money. They can present iterations in a way that encourages group development. They can inspire prospective customers. They can get the green light to make their designs real. They can create more, and see their creations succeed in the marketplace.

Although printing a real city is still a fantasy, and that working coffee maker is still slightly out of reach, the next time you hear about the wonders of 3D printing in the future, know that for many, the future is now.

This article was written by Buddy Byrum, Vice President, Product and Channel Management, for 3D Systems, Rock Hill, SC. For more information, contact Buddy Byrum at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit http://info.hotims.com/40432-121.