PassageMaker’s Whit and David are product development gurus who keep an eye out for the next big thing to reshape manufacturing. They recently sent me the following links about 3D printing which caught my attention.
http://youtu.be/ZboxMsSz5Aw shows how a fully functional tool with internal moving parts of different colors is created via a printer!
If you like that you will love that a company in Italy has built a machine that can print a house using a sandstone slurry like concrete but much finer. They can print pipes, conduits and ducts into the walls, any shape you like. http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-06/print-out-your-next-building
A dose of reality
Let’s say you are making a plastic widget and you need 10 samples to test before you move to full production. Yes, 3D printing has the capability to revolutionize manufacturing and I would love to have one around my shop for rapid prototyping. BUT for the moment (next 5 years at least, I suspect?) the cost of such technology is prohibitive. Especially when you compare it against the cost of opening a set injection plastic tools in China.
Until 3D printers are as common as the office Xerox machine, the following options may get the job done:
- Machine down a block of material into the shape you desire.
- Open tooling using “soft” metal. The tooling will wear out early, but if you are just conducting sample making in China and just want a small test run, this option may be economical.
- The original 3D printer: Stereolithography
In my experience, often the costs of doing #1 or #2 in China is less than paying for time on a Stereolithography in the USA.
Keep your eyes open for new technologies, but don’t forget about simple and affordable “old school” ways to make your samples and short production run parts!