How 3D Printing Advances Help Small Businesses

The following is a guest post by Roy Rasmussen, co-author of “Publishing for Publicity.” Rasmussen is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales.

In December, San Francisco 3D printing firm Apis Cor used a mobile printer to construct the world’s first on-site 3D-printed home in Stupino, Russia. In cooperation with Russian homebuilder PIK Group, Apis Cor’s printer completed the building envelope, self-bearing walls, and partitions for a 38-square-foot, single-story home in just 24 hours. The house was printed as a whole rather than assembled from prior materials. To use printing ink in sub-freezing weather, a heated tent was used — a technique foreshadowing how 3D printing can be used to build homes at any time of year. All together the home cost $10,134.

Apis Cor’s project illustrates the advances 3D printing has made in recent years and the advantages the technology confers on businesses. Here’s a look at some other ways improvements in 3D printing technology are benefiting small businesses.

Improving rapid prototyping efficiency

One way 3D printing advances have been helping business is making rapid prototyping easier, faster and cheaper. For instance, McLaren Racing recently partnered with 3D printer Stratasys to apply the technology to rapid prototypes for Formula One racecars. Top-level racecars must make fine-tune adjustments between races for optimal performance, meaning that rapid prototyping for parts is required frequently. 3D printing is well-suited to this application because it combines accelerated development capability with the ability to employ a flexible range of materials, such as carbon fiber.

3D printing is popular for rapid prototyping both because of its efficiency and because of the resulting lowered costs. Turbine Technologies was able to cut the average cost of prototype mold manufacturing from $20,000 to $2,000 using 3D printing, while in the process cutting prototype production time from five weeks to one day.

Reducing material costs while expanding options

In addition to reducing the cost of production, 3D printers can employ a virtually unlimited range of materials for inkjets, ranging from ceramics and metals to plastics and biomaterials, not to mention new synthetic materials and combinations of materials.

For example, Santa Barbara 3D printer ALT has developed a technique for printing multiple types of silicone materials of varying viscosities, hardness and colors, creating rubber-like deposits that can be used for anatomical tissues. O-ring manufacturer Apple Rubber is able to offer customized o-rings in over 7,000 sizes for a wide range of applications in medicine and other fields. Toulouse University Hospital has been able to use 3D printing for customized stints that exactly match the anatomy of patient trachea and bronchi, opening up new possibilities for patients unable to use standard prosthetic devices, 3D Printing Industry reports.

Shortening assembly steps

3D printing can also reduce the number of steps required in an assembly line, thus increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Since 3D printing is based on digital designs, molds can take on a virtually unlimited range of shapes, enabling some parts that would have traditionally required multiple molds to be produced in a single step.

Take EOS, for example. The additive manufacturer has helped Swiss nonprofit Devanthro Society to build Roboy, a humanoid robot with capabilities approximating that of the human body. The robot’s entire body was constructed using 3D printing; its hands and forearms were printed as single units, including phalanxes and joints for each finger.

Increasing agility with distributed production and shipping centers

Apis Cor’s mobile printer for homes also illustrates the logistical advantages of being able to print products on location; the company’s production process saves in materials storage and transportation costs. Taking advantage of this benefit, shipping companies are starting to combine 3D printing and shipping services as a way to increase shipping speed and give companies greater agility while cutting costs.

UPS, for instance, has leveraged its national network to offer 3D printing at 60 different stores nationwide. In this venture, UPS has partnered with SAP, tapping into the global software company’s supply chain management software to offer an end-to-end solution covering everything from a customer’s initial order to a product’s final delivery. Other carriers, including the U.S. Postal Service, are also looking into the possibilities of integrating 3D printing with logistics.

  • Shabnum Bhat

    Thank you for the write up! Information about Roboy is great and it seems 3D printing and robotics, together can create wonders. Working for a 3D printing service company i can say many processes are transformed through additive manufacturing. It immensely had a great impact on traditional manufacturing. Although it was new for me to know postage and shipping companies are too employing 3D printing!


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