Industries that aren’t touched enough by 3D printing—yet

Published 08/03/2015

The 3D printing media often highlights the medical, aerospace, and automotive industries. You may hear about how 3D printing is saving lives in the medical industry, reducing weight and cost of airplanes, printing and prototyping cars, and assisting with research in outer space. There are a few industries that don’t make up even 10% of 3D printing users, but I see that changing over the next few years:

Architecture

Why they’re not using 3D Printing (as much as they should): Typically, most architectural firms design in 2D CAD (Computer Aided Design) or 3D CAD that won’t export a printable file. Most “massing models” are constructed by hand and therefore can take weeks, produce a non-repeatable model, and allows for human error.

Why I think this will change: There is no easier way to show a potential client than to share a building to scale. 3D printed models will look more life-like, are paintable, and typically, we can produce these models faster than someone could sculpt or construct by hand. Could you imagine sculpting an organic shape by hand? Using 3D CAD also allows architects to make quick changes with the click of the mouse and re-print, as needed. 3D printing these models makes a more accurate piece. Added bonus: 3D printing facilitates construction planning by being able to account for equipment necessary to build a building—for example, cranes and other construction vehicles can be scaled and printed, too.

How else are you going to create Fenway Park?3D printed Fenway

Jewelry

Why they’re not using 3D Printing (as much as they should): For hundreds of years, jewelry pieces or wax to produce a jewelry piece have been hand carved by artisans who do so for a living.

Why I think this will change: As much as a talent as it is, hand carving cannot keep up with the speed, accuracy, and repeatability of using 3D CAD and 3D Printing. With repeatable and extremely accurate technology like the Solid-scape wax 3D printing, a designer can create an original piece in a matter of hours, print the part the next day, cast the part, and set the stones. The lucky lady who receives, say, a custom engagement ring now has a one-of-a-kind piece exclusive to them. Our world is getting more and more customizable—the jewelry industry is no different.

3D Printed Jewelry

Film

3D Printing in FilmWhy they’re not using 3D Printing (as much as they should): Because it’s new, foreign, and seems expensive. Many people in this industry elect to produce their one-off models by hand.

Why I think this will change: As the world becomes a more 3D-friendly place, it will make sense to print out models that will be used in movies, video games, and commercials. When entertainment companies like this need to bring the newly released monster to a trade show, machining or injection molding have a high cost for one part and long lead times. 3D printed parts can be post-processed in many ways to mimic final part realism (sanding, painting, tapping, dyeing, gluing, plating, etc) and assembled to bring an idea to life.

Prosthetics

Why they’re not using 3D Printing (as much as they should): the materials aren’t entirely there yet. The “sweet spot” for 3D printing is for custom, low-volume parts, which certainly fits the bill as far as prosthetics go, but usually we see more “orthotics” than prosthetics. To clarify, an orthotic is a brace made to correct or support a deformity while a prosthetic replaces a missing limb. Prosthetists use materials like fiberglass, nylon, carbon fiber, and Kevlar to provide strength around the residual limb. Doctors and scientists have used 3D printing fabulously as orthotics, though.

3D Printed ProstheticsWhy I think this will change: Two reasons. The first reason: people will get more creative with the way they use materials available to them today. For example—users can print in a soluble support material (using Fortus technology) and lay carbon-fiber on that, solidify the carbon-fiber, and then dissolve the soluble support material away from that leaving you with a super-strong part. The second reason: because more materials will become available for 3D printing as time goes on.

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