3D Printing’s Evolution from Novelty Process to Mainstream Manufacturing

Posted by Jonathan Tiongko on Dec 5, 2017 10:30:00 AM
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is not new to the engineering world. In fact, the first 3D printer was originally developed in the 1980s. Due to its limited applications, however, the practice was seen as more of a novelty in the manufacturing industry. Most machines used stereolithography to produce polymer realizations of complex designs. These representations of the designer’s creations were great for testing a part’s form and fit, but the material of the time lacked the required properties needed to gauge the part’s function. As it was, they were seen as more of a prop, suitable for conference room discussions but not for functional testing, let alone putting into service.


The process started to evolve from its roots in the 1990s with the emergence of polymer 3D printing. The hallmark of this new system was the new material – a plastic filament that was extruded through a gantry-mounted nozzle. The debut of polymer 3D printing and its more durable material, brought about printed parts that could potentially withstand functional testing. At first, print resolutions were rather coarse, however, as time went on, newer machines started to produce parts that were fit for use in some applications. More recently, material choices have expanded to a point where even a wide range of metals can be used in 3D printing, opening the door to a variety of production uses.


Over the past decade, additive manufacturing has been revolutionary in both prototyping and new product development. Functional parts that previously needed complex mold tools now go straight from design to reality using 3D printing. This gives manufacturers the capability to shave weeks – sometimes even months – off their lead times. Physical tooling, and even mold tools, are now being produced through additive methods, which gives users the ability to get their products to market at unprecedented speeds.


Today, 3D printing is rapidly becoming more and more mainstream in manufacturing. Utilized across an assortment of industries, its applications seem to have no end. In the medical device manufacturing industry, personalized healthcare is being realized as 3D printing is used to create medical implants, engineered and printed precisely to suit an individual patient. In the aerospace industry, complex jet engine assemblies have been replaced with single 3D printed structures, saving weight and reducing assembly work while at the same time increasing strength.


3D printing has made huge advances in innovation since its inception. Its ascension from novelty process to manufacturing mainstay has been nothing short of meteoric. And if the past two decades are any indication, its dramatic rise in the manufacturing industry has far from reached its peak.


At Panova, we make it our business to follow and understand these advances so that we can properly advise and guide our clients. We’ve enabled our clients to experience the benefits of 3D printing first hand, as we’ve employed our in-house 3D printers to aid in the product design and development of many custom components. Our printers have allowed us to reduce their projects’ needs for part revisions and engineering hours, and have greatly increased the rate at which we develop and deliver their products.


Subscribe to our blog and follow along as our next post explores the current technologies that have allowed 3D printing to take the manufacturing world by storm.


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