3D Printing

Are you ready for the next industrial revolution? Do you want to double or maybe triple your profits?

3D printing is poised for a major entrance into the manufacturing and duplication of common everyday household parts, including appliance parts. 3D printers will become as ubiquitous as fax machines and cell phones. It’s the next big thing according to a 2009 “State of the Industry” report by Wohlers Associates, a consultancy group: “3D printing is now entering the field of rapid manufacturing and was identified as a “next level” technology by many experts.

Imagine stopping by your local parts supplier and having your parts printed out while you wait. A simple digital file stored in a database with the exact dimensions and configuration are all that is needed. It promises to reduce costs, eliminate shipping charges and long waiting periods for out of stock items.

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, is a process of producing a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. Additive manufacturing itself is not new. This method involves building up an object layer-by-layer.  To perform a print, the machine reads the design from 3D printable file (STL file) and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined or automatically fused to create the final shape. The primary advantage of this technique is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature. In the industrial sector, 3D printers are often used to rapidly produce plastic prototype parts to accelerate the development of new product designs. The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Charles Hall from 3D Systems Corp. They became commercially available in 2010.

In the early phases of 3D printer development, printers were used extensively for development and research purposes by universities and commercial companies.  They generally used larger machines that used proprietary metals, casting media, (e.g. sand), plastics, paper or cartridges. Advances in RP technology (rapid prototyping) have introduced materials appropriate for final manufacturing, which has in turn, introduced the possibility of directly manufacturing finished components. A major advantage of 3D printing for rapid prototyping lies in the relatively inexpensive production of small numbers of parts. You print parts as you need them.

Michael Idelchick, Vice President of Advanced Technologies, at GE Global Research says, “The potential impact of additive manufacturing is huge. We’re not talking about the creation of thousands of new jobs; we’re talking about the creation of thousands of new businesses to the country that leads in this new wave of manufacturing.  It promises to transform industry much like Henry Ford’s Assembly Line transformed the modern manufacturing plant… perhaps even more so.” With additive manufacturing, you can design parts and products that were previously not possible.

Some companies have created services where consumers can customize objects using simplified web based customization software, and then order the resulting items as 3D printed unique objects from their local suppliers. In addition, it will be possible to replicate discontinued parts and create a clone and even modify and strengthen them.

At the forefront of 3D printer technology for small business is MakerBot Industries.. The MakerBot Replicator Mini compact 3D printer will be available this spring and will sell for a modest cost of $1375.00. Larger models are also available.

There are three ways to produce 3D objects: You can download a predesigned product from thingiverse.com;  you can scan an object from the real world, such as a crisper cover for a refrigerator or a knob for an oven; or you can design something yourself.

What is the cost factor? To determine the cost of printing an item, just weigh it.  A 1K spool of PLA (poly lactic acid), which is one of the materials used in additive manufacturing, costs $43.00. To replicate an ice maker leveling arm rudder, such as a Sub-Zero PN 7014671, would cost approximately $1.23. The factory cost for this part is $25.99 plus $13.00 shipping. That’s a savings of $37.76 for just one item.

As a small business owner, the potential for savings from 3D printing is enormous. This is a potential game-changer for our industry the results of which would be an improved bottom line, production of discontinued parts, and reduction of inventory.. I’m placing my order for a 3D printer now.

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