In 2021, I had the opportunity to interview a number of 3D printing solutions users and vendors for The Key Point Blog and The Key Point Podcast. Here are a few of my top takeaways from these conversations:
3D Printing Works Very Well for Certain Industries
Andrew DiLaura, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at CADimensions (an authorized reseller of SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD solutions and Stratasys 3D printers in the Northeast), spoke of the benefits of 3D printing for the manufacturing, medical, and aerospace sectors. From internal parts manufacturing to medical models and end-use non-critical parts, 3D printing can fill a need in these sectors from a cost, speed, accuracy, form factor, and training perspective.
Ricoh USA sees the need in the US medical sector, with its new partnership with Stratasys to provide point-of-care anatomical modeling services to healthcare facilities. And within the inspection and design stages of manufacturing, Bitzer Scroll uses 3D printing to make mockups of fixtures for inspecting the company’s refrigerant compressor as well as better visualize the design of compressor components—as shared by Henrik Diesing, Manager of the Engineering Design Group at one of the company’s locations.
The orthodontics sector is also benefiting from 3D printing, using it to making models for retainers and printing trays to help put on braces. According to Dr. Greg Stock, an orthodontist with Callahan, Flanagan, Smith, and Stock Orthodontics, there is a huge potential for directly printing orthodontic appliances in the somewhat near future.
|Screenshot from Callahan, Flanagan, Smith, and Stock Orthodontics’ |
Facebook Page Showing One of Its 3D Printers
Jon Wayne, Head of HP 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing’s Commercial Business, also spoke to us about 3D printing opportunities in the area of oral care (i.e., to make customized teeth molds in partnership with SmileDirectClub), in addition to real-life applications in the automotive, sporting goods, and audio equipment sectors.
3D Printing Can Be Affordable
One takeaway from my conversations about 3D printing is that it doesn’t have to be costly. While high-end devices and/or those that print metal are certainly in a higher price range, it is possible for organizations to use more basic products—including fused deposition modeling (FDM)-based devices—to help them with certain 3D needs.
In fact, Bitzer Scroll’s Diesing mentioned that he and his colleagues 3D printed two of the 3D printers in his facility themselves. They downloaded building plans from the Internet, ordered a couple key components (including motors), and then printed the new devices with an existing 3D printer.
“So, for example, a lot of the 3D printers here print areas pretty small. And our compressor components, they are often pretty big, though. So they don’t really fit. So sometimes for mockups and so on we print them in pieces and then we glue them together. But we built ourselves a 3D printer that’s much bigger than a printer that you can buy out in the market. So, we scaled that up quite a bit. And so now we can print pretty large components.”
3D Printing Helps with Supply Chain Issues
We all know supply chain issues are seriously impacting all sorts of industries; as such, having a 3D printer capable of printing parts and other objects on-site can make all the difference in the world. Paul Allen, a production printing technical sales expert at Xerox Business Solutions who also advises customers on Xerox’s ElemX liquid metal printing technology, brought up this point in an interview this past summer. Both in-house production printers and 3D printers can help organizations produce output (whether 2D or 3D) in a fraction of the time they’re accustomed to—especially when supply is hard to come by.
3D Printing Is a Great Marketing Tool
Stock, the orthodontist mentioned above, noted numerous ways 3D printing is helping his firm save time as well as improve accuracy. At the same time, it is a great marketing tool—between most of his competition not using it yet and the way it removes the need for putty teeth impressions for making retainers and other appliances.
“The huge benefit is that I can tell people that I can treat them without taking impressions. That’s a big barrier to entry for some people, especially adults who had a bad experience as a child. You know, they remember getting impressions either at the dentist or at the orthodontist and they never want to do that again. When I’m taking a scan of them with my wand, I can take as many breaks as they need, it won’t gag them. So, it’s definitely a big marketing tool. People have come to us because they have seen where we advertise that you don’t have to take old-fashioned impressions.”
We’ve also heard stories about 3D printers being used in retail stores and at events for marketing purposes. Whether the devices help customers/patients or provide entertainment, there are certainly numerous ways they can be leveraged to attract and retain business.
3D Printing Opens up Internal Communication
Another insight from my interviews is that 3D printing can help with communication within a business or organization. As an example, Bitzer Scroll’s Diesing discussed how models can be created not only to visualize the design of compressor components, but to get a wider range of employees’ perspectives—including those of assembly line workers—on how components fit together.
“It just helps because you can give it to all the people that have anything to do with that project, and people out on the assembly line and so on…they can actually look at those pieces and give their input. Normally those type of people they wouldn’t even have an input on a project like that.
“It would be an engineer would maybe go out on the assembly and say ‘ah there’s a problem here somewhere, I think I will fix it like that’. And then he has the components designed and we order them and spend a lot of money. But maybe the people out on the assembly line, that originally actually had the problems, they were never really involved again in that project.
“But if you use 3D printing, then it doesn’t cost much, it’s pretty easy, we can do it quickly here, then you can give it to these people on the assembly line and they can try it and touch it and use it. Then you can start the communication there with other people involved in the project.”
It seems that including more people in the design stage could potentially lead to fewer problems down the road as well as boost employee satisfaction. This could certainly be applied to a wide range of manufacturers, regardless of their core product.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
In short, there are some ideal sectors and applications for 3D printing as well as benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques and business practices—some of which may be less obvious at first. Thanks to insight from various professionals involved with 3D printing, we can point to a proven and diverse mix of these industries and advantages.
For more information on 3D print, head to The Key Point Blog and The Key Point Podcast. Also, stay tuned for some exciting announcements regarding Keypoint Intelligence’s involvement in the 3D print space.