Article by Andy Coutu (CEO of R&D Technologies)
In the old days, manufacturing took time. "Time to market" was clearly a lengthy cycle in any industry, because getting a product from concept stage to being available for purchase took time. But today, that's all different. Thanks to an innovative process known as 3D rapid prototyping, time to market can be greatly reduced. And the strange thing is, the technology is nothing new. It has been around for nearly three decades. Known as "additive manufacturing," 3D printing is used to fabricate models, prototypes, and parts out of resin material. Using a CAD drawing, a part can be printed in a matter of hours.
Today's high-end 3D rapid-prototype printers have improved exponentially over the last decade. There are machines with better print quality and resolution, significantly higher run speeds, more material choices, properties and shades of color, and less of a footprint. It's possible to buy a 3D printer to sit on your desk -- similar in size to a laser printer -- for printing convenience at your fingertips. The result of all this is that advanced 3D printers are becoming a must-have fixture within every large product-development company, from the automotive sector to electronic goods and household appliances.
Manufacturers are able to cut out much of their secondary tooling processes, such as injection molding, resin tooling, mold making, and soft tooling. And all of this will go into helping them shorten their time to market and reduce costs.
There's no end to the innovation that is taking place using 3D rapid prototyping, on a small and grand scale. According to The Wall Street Journal, Boeing plans to someday make an airplane wing without cutting or bending any metal -- using a giant 3D printer. General Electric is getting in on the act, too, for new technology in health care. From musical instruments to dental orthodontics and automotive parts, 3D printing is turning ideas into reality.
It's a fact that the U.S. is competing with other countries when it comes to manufacturing at reduced costs. 3D printing is but one tool to explore innovation and cost reduction to determine if a product can be built stronger with less material, for example, or as a tool to check if a new design will function properly.
Three-dimensional rapid prototyping is revolutionizing the manufacturing floor. The future is here, and it's "one-off," meaning it's possible to produce just one part or model cost effectively, versus having to produce thousands. When faced with the pace of rapid change, 3D printing is allowing more businesses to compete and take advantage of developing opportunities in their own backyards and around the world. It puts imagination and innovation back into the hands of more companies.