What Are the Uses of 3D Printing?

Designers use 3D printers to quickly create models and prototypes of products, but they are also increasingly being used to manufacture final products. Items made with 3D printers range from shoe designs and furniture to wax pieces for jewelry, tools, tripods, gift items, novelties, toys, and more. 3D printing has also been a driving force in creativity and problem solving in schools. The 3D printing process can take anywhere from a few hours for simple prints to days or weeks for larger projects.

DLP (Digital Light Processing) uses lamps to produce prints at higher speeds than SLA (Stereolithography) printing because the layers dry in seconds. Companies like MakerBot offer certification courses in 3D printing applications for both educators and students. When modeling and cutting a 3D object is complete, it's time for the 3D printer to take over. Origin Labs has a space dedicated to 3D printing for students and the wider community.

In situations where a product is not going to be mass-produced, 3D printing is ideal as it allows the relatively economical production of a product in much smaller volumes or on a case-by-case basis. Examples of 3D printing technology in the arts include Banksy's works being rendered from 2D to 3D using powder binding. Low-volume manufacturing is adapting to the capabilities of 3D printing, while advances in technology make it a viable higher-volume production option. The 3D printing apparatus is generally connected to a multi-axis robotic arm and consists of a nozzle that deposits powder or metal wire on a surface and an energy source (laser, electron beam or plasma arc) that melts it, forming a solid object.

German industrial manufacturing company Siemens has revealed that it will invest £27 million to open the UK's largest 3D printing factory in Worcester in partnership with Material Solutions.