3D Printing Technology Evolution and Revolution

3D printing

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D-model.
The term “3D printing” can refer to a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined, or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object with the material being added together, typically layer by layer.

The evolution of 3D printing started with Rapid Prototyping in the 1980s. The term additive manufacturing(3D printing technology) was more likely to be used in metalworking.

By early  2010s, the terms 3D printing and additive manufacturing evolved senses in which they were alternate umbrella terms for additive technologies, one being used in popular language by consumer-maker communities and the media, and the other used more formally by industrial end-use part producers, machine manufacturers, and global technical standards organizations.

The most commonly used 3D printing process (46% as of 2018) is a material extrusion technique called fused deposition modeling(FDM). While FDM technology was invented after the other two most popular technologies, stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS), FDM is typically the most inexpensive of the three by a large margin, which lends to the popularity of the process.

3D Modeling

3D printable models may be created with a  computer-aided design  (CAD) package, via a 3D scanner, or by a plain digital camera and photogrammetry software. 3D printed models created with CAD result in relatively fewer errors than other methods. Errors in 3D printable models can be identified and corrected before printing.

3D scanning is a process of collecting digital data on the shape and appearance of a real object, creating a digital model based on it.

CAD models can be saved in the stereolithography file format(STL). STL is not tailored for additive manufacturing because it generates large file sizes of a topology optimized parts and lattice structures due to the large number of surfaces involved. Hence a newer CAD file format, the Additive Manufacturing File Format(AFM) was introduced in 2011 to store information using curved triangulations.

3D Printing Revolution

The beginnings of the revolution show up in a 2014 PwC survey of more than 100 manufacturing companies. At the time of the survey, 11% had already switched to the volume production of 3-D-printed parts or products. According to Gartner analysts, technology is “mainstream” when it reaches an adoption level of 20%.

McKinsey recently reported that 3-D printing is “ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications.”

In 2014 sales of industrial-grade 3-D printers in the United States were already one-third the volume of industrial automation and robotic sales. Some projections have that figure rising to 42% by 2020.

With this revolutionary shift already underway, managers should now be engaging with strategic questions on three levels: First, sellers of tangible products, Second, industrial enterprises, Third, leaders.

Managers will need to determine whether it’s wise to wait for this fast-evolving technology to mature before making certain investments or whether the risk of waiting is too great.

Their answers will differ, but for all of them it seems safe to say that the time for strategic thinking is now

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