The last couple of years have seen a continuous increase in popularity and expectations of Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing. Even when the technology is already available, and has been for the last 30 years, it has garnered attention during this decade. More so, the role of 3D printing in engineering became obvious almost immediately. So, this technology will soon change the world of engineering sooner rather than later.
Thanks to previous patents expiring, the market of 3D printers started growing steadily since 2009. What used to be a $200,000 piece of equipment, is now a desktop printer that can cost around $2000. They are so popular and affordable, that there are around 300,000 consumer 3D printings in the world. But in order to understand the relevance of 3D printing in engineering, we need to look at the history of AM. Then, we’ll be able to discuss the applications of AM in engineering, and what its future holds.
A Brief History of 3D Printing
Despite it having a futuristic sound and feel, 3D printing technology has been around for more than 30 years. In 1981, Hideo Kodama obtained the first 3D printing patent. His device used UV light that would harden photoreactive polymers. This technology would be used for printing prototypes, mainly.
In 1986, Chuck Hull filed a patent for a stereolithography machine that used a similar process to that of Kodama. Hull also developed the STL file format that 3D printers need to read in order to actually print a given design. Thanks to the development and combination of hardware and software, additive manufacturing has been able to become what it is nowadays.
A year later, Carl Deckard filed a patent for a process he called Selective Laser Sintering. This is the most popular process in 3D printing. In 1989, a German Company called EOS GmbH developed the Direct Metal Laser Sintering. This technology was capable of producing parts completely of metal.
During the same period, S. Scott Crump filed a patent for a process he called Fused Deposition Modelling, which is widely popular today. Along with his wife, Lisa Crump, they funded Stratasys and has been one of the main 3D printer manufacturers ever since.
What Are Some Applications of 3D Printing in Engineering?
Fast forward to the current times, and we can see that additive manufacturing has plenty of potential in many different fields. Now, the role of 3D printing in engineering might be one of the richest areas to explore. There are several uses that engineers are giving to AM, and we can only expect them to keep increasing.
One of the main applications of 3D printing in engineering is in designing molds and prototypes for low-volumes of parts or tools. This is an ideal alternative for different startups that need small batches of their products. They can get them for one-third of the price. Rapid manufacturing, easy prototyping, and mass customization are other possible applications of AM technologies.
What is the Future of 3D Printing in Engineering?
Nowadays, there are many academic fields that benefit from the application of additive manufacturing. There are even specialized master’s programs in the use and application of 3D technology. The relevance of 3D printing in engineering is also starting to have an impact of several engineering degrees.
The main areas of opportunity for engineering students comprise the fields of Materials and Chemical science, for example. Materials are one of the biggest challenges that 3D printing is facing, so the proper development of the right elements is essential.
3D modeling and Industrial Design are other fields of engineering that pose interesting potential. Civil engineering, electronic engineering, mechatronics, and mechanical engineering are some of the areas that will be requiring plenty of skills and knowledge in 3D printing for future engineers.