Is 3D Printing the New Industrial Revolution?

It is common these days to hear about a company or person moving from print publications to the web. Sure the web is the future, has a smaller barrier to entry, and can ultimately reach a larger audience, so everyone interested in growth should be going there. What if you were already on the web though, had a significant presence, fantastic readership, a stellar reputation, and consistent income? Who would be crazy enough to move away from that, especially to go back to boring old printing.

Recently Zdnet ran an article discussing a move like this, from web publication back into printing. You may be able to tell when I’m going with this. It wasn’t just the boring old printing industry that snagged a top web editor, it was the flashy new technology of 3D printing. Chris Anderson, formerly the Editor-In-Chief of Wired magazine, left his post and published a book called “Makers:The New Industrial Revolution”. Overall “Makers” is meant to mean more than just 3D printers but certainly they play a huge part. Especially since Mr. Anderson has been quoted hypothesizing that 3D printers will be “bigger than the Web” (this may just be a sound bite to help sell books). Looking at the current state of the technology helps to assess whether or not it can truly be the next revolution.

3D  Printed Christmas Tree via Creative Tools user on Flickr
3D Printed Christmas Tree via Flickr User "Creative Tools"

Talking 3D Printing With Mcor Technologies: Part 2

Over the past few months I have been intrigued by the rising popularity of 3D printing. This young  technology is getting a lot of mentions in the media and on the web. I was put in touch with Conor McCormack, Co-Founder and CEO or Mcor, a developing player in the industry. They design and manufacture 3D Printers and we had a chance to chat about the amazing new developments Mcor is working on as well as the state 3D Printing as an industry.
3D Printing machine capable of outputting three dimensional paper parts
Mcor's Matrix300 Plus machine that prints 3D paper products

This is Part 2 of the discussion with Conor. In Part one we spoke about his history and the development of Mcor and there new product launch. After launching someone must buy the printer though. Most 3D Printers are expensive enough that they require a capital expenditure, which often requires an understanding of the ROI. A corporate financial officer may have to justify the spend by reducing the budget to a design group for model making. Home hobbyists are also concerned about the true cost of a machine once the consumables cost(the material used per print) are factored in. A new model that the Matrix and Iris printers are being sold under is a 3 year all inclusive plan for a fixed fee. Conor spoke about what prompted Mcor to adopt this pricing model.

The Effect of 3D Printing on Mid-Sized Manufacturers

A few recent 3DEngr posts have been focused on 3D printing and its rise in popularity. In trying to learn more it's been fascinating to follow all the links and mentions of new technology to see the great products that everyone is creating. It seems there are tons of universities and R&D departments that are using rapid prototyping from 3D printers to help move forward existing projects and some have hypothesized that one day rapid prototyping services will replace the need for a number of existing business. The potential to grow printing industry and capture some of the revenues of the current manufacturing sector is why the top printing companies are touted and traded as growth stocks. But if 3D printers capture manufacturing revenues doesn't that leave many small and mid sized manufacturers in a tough spot?

There are a number of manufacturers in the US who may feel threatened by 3D printing. Injection molding plants, thermoformers, and machine shops all are in the cross hairs as rapid prototyping becomes more mainstream. Some of these companies will continue on their path will continue business as usual, and though they might stick around things will be different. Other  companies like First American Plastic, who typically focused on contract manufacturing are looking to 3D printers to expand their business and better serve customers. With a new Stratasys 3d printer they can create prototype parts in a fraction of the time and complexity of old methods. Where it may take 3-4 existing manufacturing processes to create a part a 3D printer can be setup to run the exact same part even overnight. This not only means savings for the manufacturer but also faster service for customers. With the ability to create fast prototypes a traditional manufacturing house can focus on getting customers out of the R&D stage and into production where the real profit lies.

A shock printed on a Stratasys machine in a single print (Photo Credit Stratasys)
An injection mold with inserts that could potential be printed in tool steel (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

By focusing on the service aspect of 3D printing and providing timely delivery of prototypes manufacturers can free up engineers to develop new systems. One of the intriguing uses of the Statasys I noticed on the First American Plastic website is the ability to quickly fabricate jigs, fixtures and molds for thermoforming. Simple molds are easy enough to create, a sample printed mold is shown at the MakerBot site, but that is just the tip. Because a 3D printer create a part in layers there are unique geometries and functions they can output. This is what most excites me about printing. As more and more engineers have time to experiment the jigs and fixtures they dream up could revolutionize all sorts of manufacturing processes.

Of course 3D printing is not limited to simple plastics. Some machines are even capable of printing tool steel! One of my past experiences was with a contract manufacturer where we often created mold inserts for low volume production runs. The process was time consuming. First the steel insert was machined on a CNC machine. Then for complex or finely detailed parts an EDM (Electrical Discharge Machine) was used to further burn the cavity. This required the machine of multiple electrodes, sometimes up to a half dozen individual machined copper components. Finally the base mold the insert was sitting into would have to be checked for fit and cooling lines.

First American Plastic - 3D Printing and PrototypingFirst American Plastic

One of the many machining processes that can be eliminated with 3D printing

Had we managed to get our hands on a 3D Printing machine that could hit tolerances in tool steel it would have been possible to skip right over the designing of electrodes and machine of the tool and simply print the insert. Just think of all the time savings. Even without the use of printed tool steel Objet is putting out materials showing how their systems can be used to create inserts that mimic this fashion. A white paper is available (.pdf link) that does a great job of showing the capabilities.

Of course printing prototypes and injection molding tools is not something everyone will be doing enough to justify an at home printer. For 3D printing to get into living rooms everywhere a whole new sub-industry will have to rise. As was noted by Conor Maccormack in our recent interview “You can give someone a typewriter but that doesn’t make them Shakespeare”. Some of the handy things that would be easy to print, like these garden tools, are still extremely difficult to design for everyday use. Your average Lawyer or CPA has not had the training to design and print a fence post cap if it has threads, for that you will still need an Industrial Designer or Engineer.

It is exciting to talk about the major impact that 3D Printing will have. This Bloomberg video poses an interesting question about the worldwide scope of that impact. “Will 3D Printing Kill Asia’s Manufacturers?” Whether or not it does is a bigger question than I am willing to tackle but what I am certain of is that it provides companies a new tool to create and innovate if they are willing.

Check out more posts about 3D Printing technology and the 3D Printing Industry.

This post was sponsored by First American Plastic.

Talking 3D Printing With Mcor Technologies: Part 1

Over the past few months I have been intrigued by the rising popularity of 3D printing. This young  technology is getting a lot of mentions in the media and on the web. In my everyday life its even making an appearance, a machine recently showed up in my office and has excited a lot of people. It has been a few years since I was up close and personal with printing so this was a great new development for me personally. Since I am a bit out of date I reached out to a few contacts (one of whom provided me with some great sample prints that still sit on my desk) who had helped me out in the past. Julie Reece, who appeared previously on this blog after we met on the floor at Solidworks World in 2010, told me about 7 year old printing company Mcor that has been growing nicely. talking about the 3D Printing industry with Conor Maccormack
The results of 3D printing in paper

Mcor is using an amazing material to differentiate themselves. Instead of plastic or tool steel Mcor is using paper. That's right, good old fashion paper. Julie put me in touch with Mcor Co-Founder and CEO Conor McCormack and we had a chance to chat about the amazing new developments Mcor is working on as well as the state of the industry. What follows is our conversation:

The New CSWE Event at Solidworks World - Part 3 with Mike Puckett

In an effort to keep this site up to date with the latest CSWP news and exam material I reached out to a contact, Mike Puckett, who is a Certificaiton Specialist for Soliworks. In the first two parts of the conversation Mike spoke about the growth of the CSWP and the reason most people take the exams. In addition to enhancing a resume many CSWPs will tell you about the fantastic, and exclusive, event held every year at Solidworks world. Mike was able to share with me some of the specifics of the growth and provide some exclusive details on the new exclusive event.

The Benefit of the CSWP - Part 2 with Mike Puckett

A lot of traffic to 3DEngr comes from people looking for information on the CSWP exam. It has been some time since I personally took the exam so I though it best to speak with a professional and keep things up to date. Mike Puckett, one of the Certification Specialists for Solidworks Corp. helped provide some insight.

In Part one of the conversation Mike spoke about updating the exam to keep it relevant and the role the CSWP has played in the Solidworks community. In addition to when the tests are put out I am constantly questioning who is using them and why. Mike was able to elaborate on when people first get turned on to the CSWP, what Solidworks is doing to help them and how it can be used to enhance a resume.

The growth of the Certified Solidworks Professional Test (CSWP) - Part 1 with Mike Puckett

It has been a few years since I took the CSWP and other Solidworks certification exams.  With most of the traffic to this site still coming from people looking for information on the test it seemed about time to make sure that everything was up to date. Before revisiting each of the posts individually I reached out to an old contact, Mike Puckett, for some information.

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