The term 3D printing (or Additive Manufacturing as it's also known) has been around since the early eighties. But it has gathered real momentum over the past 5 years and those of us in manufacturing have seen a huge increase in the number of suppliers and printer models entering the market.
If you've attended an industry trade show in the past 12 months you will have almost certainly walked past a shiny glass cabinet packed full of colourful plastic objects; the Eiffel Tower, dinosaur skeletons, chess pieces, car parts and Star Wars characters - they've thought of everything!
So, as a manufacturer, you might be wondering if you are missing out? Do you need to buy one now that your competitor has? Will it add real value to your business or help your customers achieve their goals in some way? Or will it be left to gather dust in the corner once the novelty has worn off?
Thankfully Dr Phil Reeves, head of consulting at Stratasys helps dispel a number of myths surrounding additive manufacturing.
He explains how early misconceptions have led to the slow adoption in a number of sectors. He admits that desktop prototyping by engineering and design teams wasn't originally anticipated to do so well. And he touches on why you should forget about 4D printing for the time being until the world has fully exploited 3D.
Finally, he provides insight into the type of software developments machine manufacturers might start to offer over the next couple of years.
This mismatch of expectation v reality was fuelled by the drive toward consumer-level 3D printing a few years ago. The ‘3D printer in every home’ vision created by the hype never materialised, largely due to the fact that the advantages of AM technology lie in applications where it adds or creates value; where the benefits of the technology outweigh any hidden costs. Just because you can use AM to create objects does not necessarily mean that you should.