Applications of 3D Printing Technology

The 3D Printing technology was developed on the basic principle of Rapid Prototyping. Prototyping is the process of building an early stage model, sample, or testing version of the actual product to be developed. Prototyping helps in the development process of the product and ensures the optimum output of the final product. Prototyping is still one of the most common applications of 3D printing

The prototyping demanded improvements in the existing processes and use of materials and this led to the developments in the technology. And this resulted in expanding the horizons of 3D printing. These developments crossed all industry verticals. Below is the complete list of widely applications of 3D printing:

1. Aerospace/Aviation 

Above: SuperDraco 3D Printed Engine testing/Image Credit: SpaceX

Aerospace and aviation industry were amongst the early adopters of the 3D printing technology. It is no secret that the aerospace industry is a serious research demanding industry and the complex systems are of a very critical nature. So, the companies partnered with research institutes to develop efficient and sophisticated processes to augment the use of 3D printing technology. Numerous 3D printed aircraft components are now manufactured and tested successfully and even used in the industry. Global companies like Boeing, Dassault Aviation and Airbus and some others are already using this technology to good use in their research and manufacturing.

As recent as in May 2020, SpaceX collaborated with NASA to send two astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft was fitted with a 3D printed SuperDraco engine.

2. Automotive

investing in 3D printers
Above: BMW to use 3D printing for automotive series production under IDAM project/Image Credit: BMW Group

This is another industry where Rapid prototyping is very much essential before actual product manufacturing and implementation. By now, it must be known that Rapid prototyping and 3D printing, almost always, go hand-in-hand. And just like the aerospace industry, automobile industry also welcomed the 3D technology with open arms. Working alongside research teams and incorporating the new technology, 3D products were tested and used in actual applications.

The automobile sector is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the 3D printing technology and will always be one of its biggest users. Companies like Ford, Mercedes, Honda, Lamborghini, Porsche, and General Motors are some of the early adopters in Auto sector.

3. Medical/Healthcare

3D printed heart
Above: World’s first 3D printed heart created from a human tissue completely matches all the anatomical properties of a human patient, using a 3D printer/Image Credit: Tel Aviv University

Medical sector also is an early adopter of 3D printing. The medical sector was one of the earliest sectors to understand the potential of 3D printing and medical professionals are working with this technology since the early 90’s. By late 90’s and early 2000’s, researchers had already planted a 3D printed organ in a human body. The scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, 3D-printed the synthetic building blocks of human bladders. This newly generated tissue was then implanted in the human body.

As the years have passed, the medical field has only gained benefits from 3D printing. We can see one-off instances like the use of personalised prosthetics, 3D printed dental fixtures and hearing aids being designed and customised as per the needs of the users. It is not far off when a sophisticated 3D printer will be present in every hospital to readily 3D print organs like bones, skin and tissues as and when required customised to every individual. However, this will largely depend on the research but it definitely doesn’t seem very long before it becomes a norm.

In 2019, Israeli researchers from Tel Aviv University unveiled the world’s first 3D printed heart with human tissue. 

4. Jewellery

Image Credit: Formlabs

Jewellery sector has always been a complex and labour intensive sector. Highly specialized knowledge and expertise is required in each of the many processes involved in it. The sector is very old and the origins go way back even before many of the industries mentioned in this list. A simple example of Investment Casting, which is traced back to 4000 years, can help you to understand the industry age.

For jewellery, specifically, 3D printing industry can be called as a disruptive technology. 3D printing has disrupted the jewellery industry and it is now rationalising the traditional processes to optimise and utilize the potential of 3D printing.  It has made it easier to rapidly prototype jewellery designs that accurately fit customers and has made it possible to produce large batches of ready-to-cast pieces.

5. Art/Sculpture

3D printing in India
Above: The 3D printed sculpture of Spiderman/Image Credit: STPL 3D

3D printing has helped to improve the existing designers and bring out the closet designers too. People with great mental abilities to sculpt but were lacking the mode of expression are now finding a new way to express their ideas.

With the freedom of having multiple options of method and materials, designers can experiment with their ideas more easily and frequently. The idea generation and idea implementation process time has greatly reduced and this has benefited not only the designers but also the customers and consumers of art. Specialized software is also now being developed to cater to these designers giving them more freedom to express.

The 3D printing revolution has brought fame to numerous 3D artists like Joshua Harker, a well-known American artist and considered a pioneer & visionary in 3D printed art & sculptures, Theo Jansen is a Dutch kinetic artist. In 1990, he began what he is known for today: building large mechanisms out of PVC that are able to move on their own, known as Strandbeest, Linlin (from China) and Pierre-Yves (of French origin) are young artists who were able to blend their cultural differences and artistic skills to make create a partnership of unexpected creativity, Michaella Janse van Vuuren is a designer and artist with a PhD in Electrical Engineering, and many more. Such designers are emerging from varying strata of society and challenging the norms of design.

6. Fashion

3D printing in fashion
Above: British Supermodel Jourdan Dunn wore a custom Zac Posen x GE Additive x Protolabs rose gown/Image Credit: The New York Times

In July, 2016, 13 designers from the US, Europe and Asia showcased their 3D printed fashion at the Platform Fashion show in Germany. This is the potential of 3D printing. 3D printing technology is trespassing such an industry which, even the early inventors, would have not thought about. Fashion is now considered as the emerging application of 3D printing technology. Now more and more fashion shows showcase 3D printed fashion. To everyone’s delight these shows are garnering rave reviews. One of the highlights of 3D printed fashion was during the launch of the World’s First 3D Printing Jacket by Israeli Fashion Designer Danit Peleg in 2017.

The application was really brought to the fore at the 201 MET Gala where Zac Posen, an American fashion designer, collaborated with leading 3D printing companies like GE Additive and Protolabs to create breathtaking 3D printed dresses. 

7. Architecture

Architecture is another field of interest for 3D printing technology. The architects ideas of a project can now be easily and quickly be converted into a tangible product. Any changes can again be incorporated easily and swiftly and models can be generated accordingly.

8. Food

alternative-meat 3D printer
Above: Redefine Meat delivers products that are indistinguishable from high quality animal meat/Image Credit: Redefine Meat

Food can be called as the latest addition to applications of 3D printing. For long this field too was not looked at from 3D printing point of view and only recently some research and development in this field have been successful. One worth mentioning is the well-known and successful research funded by NASA of printing pizza in space. This research has been ground breaking and it will enable many companies to develop 3D printers in the near future. Though not completely in wide commercial use as of now, the applications of 3D printing are not very far from practical use in industries. 

Redefine meat is working on developing 3D printed meat through, its proprietary meat digital modelling, and advanced food formulations to produce animal-free meat with the appearance, texture and flavour of whole muscle meat.

9. Construction

Above: 3D Printed Bridge/Image Credit: MX3D

Construction is seen as a rapidly growing application of 3D printing. Large housing communities are being built through 3D printing. One of the most prominent project is announced by the UAE government called as  the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy. Among the concrete initiatives included in the Strategy is the introduction of a new law under which 25% of new buildings’ components must be manufactured with 3D printing technology by 2025.

In the Netherlands, a metal bridge was also 3D printed and unveiled in the fall of 2018 by MX3D.

Such are the various applications of 3D Printing technology. The above applications can only be an indication of the potential of the technology. It has crossed all norms and even travelling into many uncharted territories. It looks to disrupt all the industries by storm but will the storm survive is the big question. The technology is definitely here to stay but which application will be the highest beneficiary is the most interesting part of the whole 3D printing story.

About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.