3D printed houses? Food? How about a human ear?

The future is here, as predicted in 2017 by Onshape co-founder John McEleney. 

For some time, 3D printing wasn’t thought of as a solution to the many problems facing us today for a number of reasons: lack of the right material, irregular consistency and a small knowledge pool. 

But as more and more companies begin to use 3D printing throughout the product development process, the problems of a newfound technology are becoming smaller and easier to mitigate.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing as we know it now has been around since at least the 80s. Since then, makers and hobbyists around the world have taken advantage of this technology to create solutions for everyday problems, like organizing pens or holding keys, as well as for fun, like creating dragon figurines.

It’s only grown since then as larger companies are integrating 3D printing into their workflows and processes. But what is it exactly?

3D printing is a technique that adds layers of material to build an item that was designed using CAD software. Since this technique adds material, it is also called additive manufacturing.

3D printing differs from the older, more traditional way of building items. Typically, items would be made by a subtractive process, much like sculpting away at clay. But because you’re taking away material, this process is usually more expensive than an additive process that uses a set amount of plastic, metal, etc. 

3D printing in progressA 3D printer in use. Osman Talha Dikya/Unsplash

3D Printing as an Industrial-Level Solution

Now, 3D printing is proving to have a vital and permanent role in product development by accelerating and improving the design, speeding up time-to-market, and reducing reliance on the global supply chain.

It has spurred the use of rapid prototyping, which allows companies to create physical prototypes of a new product earlier in the design process. The technologies and materials available now can produce a close replica of the final product. This way, teams can fail fast as the feedback loop is shortened and improvements can be made quickly.

Beyond rapid prototyping, product development teams can 3D-print end-use parts that are high-precision and functional in a fraction of the time and cost. 

Because of these benefits, governments around the world are turning to additive manufacturing to relieve the stress on the global supply chain and update the aging manufacturing sector.

In 2018, the U.K. launched the Catapult program that allocated $900 million to the country’s manufacturing sector in an effort to advance innovative ideas. Now, over 9,000 small and mid-size enterprises have been positively impacted by the program.

Germany and Sweden have also invested money and created programs to spur the adoption of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. 

In the U.S., the Additive Manufacturing Forward program was formed in May 2022. The initiative is to encourage a tighter partnership between original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and SME suppliers. AM Forward aims to help companies invest in new additive machines, train workers and help standardize 3D printing, a major pain point preventing the industry from scaling up.

Early participants of the program include GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens Energy. The program will also provide financing to small manufacturers to upgrade equipment, buy new additive machines and train their workforce.

The AM Forward briefing from the White House

Support 3D Printing with Agile CAD Software

Since the 3D printing process frequently includes numerous iterations for quick prototyping, more additive manufacturers are opting for cloud-native CAD, like Onshape. 

Currently, several businesses are taking advantage of 3D printing and cloud-native CAD to speed up their design processes and cut down on time-to-market.

For example, Quebec-based Omnirobotic relies on both Onshape and additive manufacturing to improve their automation system robot. Additive manufacturing is used to speed up rapid prototyping on the housing components for Omnirobotic’s robotic cameras. Every automation system is a one-of-a-kind creation based on the manufacturer's specific requirements. The components in the camera units may change as the system's parameters change, necessitating camera housing modifications. To keep up with rapid iteration, Omnirobotic engineers use CAD and 3D-printed prototypes to test the customized system before the final product is machined in aluminum.

Cloud-native CAD allows designers to quickly generate and store numerous versions of a design and lets users easily blend the best elements from several models into a completely new one.

Omnirobotic machineOmnirobotic’s technology allows robotic cells to “see” and respond to an individual part.

Engineers with Informal, a freelance network of engineers, use additive manufacturing to print several prototypes to adjust the fit and positioning of the Neurosity Crown, “the world's first wearable brain computer.” By being able to hold and look at the quick plastic 3D prints, the team is able to speed up the prototyping process compared to the traditional method.

The Informal team not only saves time in the prototyping process but in communicating with clients as well with the power of Onshape’s collaboration tools

Because cloud-native CAD’s streamlined tools are available throughout the development process, Onshape makes sense for designers and engineers who want to iterate quickly, save money and effectively use 3D printing technology.

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