Menu
3-D printing comes of age

3-D printing comes of age

Companies have used the technology for decades, but it has surged in popularity

Boeing, NASA, Lockheed Martin and GE are among the large corporations that for decades have used additive manufacturing, known more popularly as 3-D printing.

Additive manufacturing is also used prominently in the medical and dental industries -- about 80,000 hip implants have been made to date using 3-D printers, and every day some 15,000 tooth crowns and fillings are made with parts from 3-D printers, said Terry Wohlers, an industry analyst.

It was only about six or seven years ago that people began invoking dimensions to give "additive manufacturing" the trendier 3-D printing name. The rise of a movement among consumers known as "maker culture," a type of do-it-yourself philosophy geared toward engineering-related pursuits such as 3-D printing, robotics and electronics, is one possible explanation for the name change.

But analysts also point to a singular event: the expiration in the late 2000s of a key patent held by Stratasys covering fused deposition modeling. Growth in the consumer market has been impressive since then, because the technology, also known as material extrusion, is now used in other companies' 3-D printers.

The extrusion process produces an object by melting and depositing molten plastic through a heated extrusion tip. Like other additive manufacturing processes, it adds one layer upon another until the part is complete. Alternative methods include material jetting, which uses an inkjet print head to deposit liquid plastic layer by layer. Another is powder bed fusion, which uses an energy source, like a focused laser, to build parts from plastic or metal powder.

Those three processes are the most popular, Wohlers said.

3-D printing has some challenges, both for consumers and industry. For consumers, the quality of the lower-cost machines isn't great, said Wohlers. They're hard to set up, sometimes there are pieces missing, and their reliability and output is not always very good, he said.

And for the average consumer, versus the technically adept do-it-yourselfer, there still aren't many compelling applications, some say. Instead of making a new toy or replacing a household tool with your computer, "it's still more convenient to go to the hardware store or toy store," said Pete Brasiliere, an industry analyst with Gartner.

For the enterprise, 3-D printing can have a useful place. If you want to print 1 million devices or products at high quality, experts agree it's better to go with a traditional subtractive process. "But if you want to do one, 10, or even 100, 3-D printing has advantages for low-quantity, high-product value," Brasiliere said.

Others cite additive manufacturing's boutique appeal. 3-D printing will never replace the high-volume manufacturing of mass-produced items like the iPhone, said Brasiliere, but for low-volume components that have very specific requirements around the material, design and performance, "3-D printing makes sense," he said.

Follow Us

Join the New Zealand Reseller News newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags peripheralsPrintersboeingNASAgeneral electricManufacturingScannersindustry verticalsinternet

Featured

Slideshows

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel

​As the channel changes and industry voices deepen, the need for clarity and insight heightens. Market misconceptions talk of an “under pressure” distribution space, with competitors in that fateful “race for relevance” across New Zealand. Amidst the cliched assumptions however, distribution is once again showing its strength, as a force to be listened to, rather than questioned. Traditionally, the role was born out of a need for vendors and resellers to find one another, acting as a bridge between the testing lab and the marketplace. Yet despite new technologies and business approaches shaking the channel to its very core, distributors remain tied to the epicentre - providing the voice of reason amidst a seismic industry shift. In looking across both sides of the vendor and partner fences, the middle concept of the three-tier chain remains centrally placed to understand the metrics of two differing worlds, as the continual pulse checkers of the local channel. This exclusive Reseller News Roundtable, in association with Dicker Data and rhipe, examined the pivotal role of distribution in understanding the health of the channel, educating from the epicentre as the market transforms at a rapid rate.

Educating from the epicentre - Why distributors are the pulse checkers of the channel
Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar last night, with a bumper crowd of distributors, vendors and resellers descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kickstart 2017. Photos by Maria Stefina.

Kiwi channel reunites as After Hours kicks off 2017
Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel

Arrow Electronics introduced Tenable Network Security to local resellers in Sydney last week, officially launching the distributor's latest security partnership across Australia and New Zealand. Representing the first direct distribution agreement locally for Tenable specifically, the deal sees Arrow deliver security solutions directly to mid-market and enterprise channel partners on both sides of the Tasman.

Arrow exclusively introduces Tenable Network Security to A/NZ channel
Show Comments