Although we love 3D printing here at NeMAC, lovers and skeptics alike of 3D printing have been asking the same question a lot recently: when will 3D printing go into the mainstream?
Despite new advances in additive manufacturing, and costs of 3D printers continuing to drop even throughout 2013, that’s a question that has been nagging at experts ever since the technology came along.
3D printing is fairly slow and has for the most part been limited to weak materials, so it’s been hard to see exactly when the technology would start really making a difference in the world of manufacturing. But as it turns out, a couple of companies are jumping on the 3D printing bandwagon, suggesting that a real breakthrough may be closer than we think.
As Forbes pointed out to us in an article yesterday, both GE and Rolls Royce have plans to use 3D printing for manufacturing something you might not expect: plane parts.
GE, who is “on the hunt for ways to build more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for its new Leap jet engines,” is turning towards 3D printing as a possible option. The part they’re looking to manufacture is usually made up of many machined parts, but 3D printing has the potential to print that part all as one piece. New 3D printing technology allows parts to be ‘printed’ in metal, making 3D printing an ideal candidate for the nozzles they’re looking for.
Rolls Royce is also looking towards 3D printing as an option for the manufacture of components for jet engines. And in both cases, speed is a factor–although less so for Rolls Royce than GE, there’s no doubt that the 3D printers of today–which can be expensive and very slow–may not yet be up to the task that each company needs.
Although that may seem like a huge setback, we see the current limitations of 3D printing as a very exciting thing for the future. Because today’s 3D printers aren’t yet up to the tasks that companies like GE and Rolls Royce need them for–and because those same companies are obviously willing to invest money in the technology–it’s very likely that there will be more money spent on additive manufacturing R&D.
As you can imagine, more money towards R&D means more refined technology over time.
So while the question of when–and if–3D printing will enter the mainstream still needs to be answered, investments like these into new technology mean exciting things for the future. R&D into manufacturing technology has benefits for everyone in the industry, so we really can’t wait to see what companies like GE and Rolls Royce manage to come up with!