From Bits to Pieces: The Business Innovation Opportunities of 3D Printing

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Even without a 3D printer, small- and large-scale production can be accessed through online service like Shapeways, Sculpteo, and i. In addition to composite filaments that have carbon fiber or other additives to enhance strength, 3D printing is enabling the creation of innovative new composite materials. Continuous Composites , a company out of Idaho, uses 3D printing to produce continuous carbon fiber composites, which have long strands of carbon fiber running through the print.

Other companies are producing and developing innovative methods of producing composites made with materials ranging from Kevlar and fiberglass to carbon fiber and other additives. In particular, functional metamaterials , which work more like complex machines, are made possible thanks to 3D printing.

They can function as hinges, door handles, and potentially much more, all without complex moving parts. Another team at the Delft University of Technology has created auxetic metamaterials that should lead to better hip implants, distributing force more evenly and reducing wear and tear on surrounding bone.


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These materials are designed with an internal geometry that allows them to expand when pressure is applied. This was made possible by 3D printing plastic coils used in the material.

Other teams have created metamaterials that manipulate sound as well. One team at USC Viterbi created such a material, which can be activated by a magnetic field. By having iron particles in a lattice structure, a magnetic field can be used to deform the structure into one which traps sounds rather than letting them pass through. One is 3D printing homes and emergency shelters.

Column: 3D printing raises huge opportunities and challenges for society

One project, called ICON, has produced a 3D printed home in just a few weeks out of cement and a 3D printing system they developed. As another example, though still in its early stages, researchers at the University of Nantes have developed a 3D printing system capable of building a fully-insulated polyurethane foam housing structure in 20 to 30 minutes using a robotic arm.

Meanwhile, other companies are innovating in other ways. One company, called Branch Technology creates innovative 3D printed scaffolding with freeform 3D printers that can be used to create stronger, lighter, structures. These structures can be used as they are in some cases, but they can also be filled with low-cost materials to create on-demand housing or reinforced structures. These types of innovations have the potential to reduce costs, raise quality and safety standards, and also speed up construction of homes and other buildings.

Much like metamaterials, 3D printing is enabling the design and production of innovative structures and materials that have unique and interesting properties.

Innovations Right Out of the 3D Printer

Pioneers at Emerging Objects have created some stunning work in this area. Their rain screens and evaporative cooling bricks , made possible with ceramic 3D printing , are truly innovative while also being a low-tech solution to a common problem.


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  5. Another innovation under development in this area are objects that respond to stimuli. For example, researchers have created objects that deform, fold, or change shape in response to heat. In the future, this innovative technology could be used to create complex objects that could put themselves together, saving time, energy, and resources. Already hobbyists have been 3D printing drone replacement parts on demand. This allows them to get their drone back in the air faster along with offering customization and all the other benefits that come with 3D printing.

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    Even the military and aerospace industry are catching on, using additive manufacturing for drones and other aircraft. If necessary, the company says they could produce a second one in a matter of weeks. These innovative designs drastically reduce costs for testing and producing UAVs as well as the time it takes to create them. More recently, Titomic 3D printed a titanium drone using their innovative Titomic Kinetic Fusion process , which mechanically fuses titanium powder.

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    This innovative 3D printing method allows them to combine dissimilar metals and materials, creating parts that exhibit unique properties and the benefits of different alloys in the same material. It also eliminates welds and other points of failure that plague traditional manufacturing. The world of tomorrow might very possibly be populated with 3D printed cars , drones , electronics , planes, door knobs, and all kinds of products we either never had, or were never so available, customizable, and affordable.

    For better or worse, you could be the next innovator that changes lives, industries, or even the world. This website or its third-party tools use cookies, which are necessary to its functioning and required to achieve the purposes illustrated in the Privacy Policy. Get it 3d printed Subscribe to updates from All3DP. You are subscribed to updates from All3DP.

    Second, because there is such little supply chain cost, digital products can be sold less expensively. Finally, because digital books, music, and movies can be delivered instantaneously, there is no time advantage to buying in-store. Where better than a retail store, where samples can be displayed?

    Remember service merchandise? It was a retail store that displayed a sample of each product on the floor. To make a purchase, the customer took a slip of paper to the register, paid, and then waited for the product to slide down a chute from the warehouse. Retailers have spent millions to optimize their supply chain technology and processes. While digital works well with media, it will be more challenging with physical products.

    In the near term at least, the cost and complexity of digitally manufacturing at home will be prohibitive for most people. High-end 3D printers can print 10 or more substrates. Home 3D printers are typically limited to plastic. Those decisions will be determined by the quality, cost, and time of printing at home versus elsewhere. Local production creates the lowest possible supply chain cost. What I am saying is that they will complement each other. Those will continue to be mass-manufactured though 3D printing will play a bigger role in their production.

    But, the list of products that can be manufactured digitally grows every day.

    A savvy retailer like Walmart would probably offer products digitally at the beginning and end of their lifecycle. The retailer will be able to make that decision based on its own data, not some analysis of industry trends.

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    The major causes are as follows:. Since a digital product would only be produced upon order and payment confirmation many of the causes of shrink would be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely. Of that, It can be very difficult for a retailer to know whether a mass-produced product was sold by it or someone else. If a product is ordered digitally, a receipt is always available.

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    Like 2D digital printing, security features can be built into 3D printed products allowing the retailer to know if the product was theirs. Like any other SKU, digitally-manufactured products will be legitimately returned for many reasons. But what about all the other returns retailers must contend with? Non-receipted returns account for Included in that is return fraud which accounts for 5. If by , Walmart was able to build a thriving 3D-printing service, the reduction in shrink and lower cost of returns could help make it a very profitable chunk of revenue for the company.

    It could because it has. Here is the math. Look at it this way. Walmart stocks over , SKUs in its stores and offers over a million on its website. It would make on-boarding new suppliers easier and make mass-production more profitable. How would that impact the number of transactions and the average sale?

    Consider mobile again. Could digital manufacturing have a similar effect?

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