3D Printing

Nov 18 2013

At the 2013 London Design Festival we attended a talk on the future of this increasingly popular manufacturing process. Here we’ve broken down the panelists discussion into a concise Q&A  


What is 3D printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing process which builds up a product in layers. Adding material rather than taking it away provides a more versatile product.

How is it different to traditional manufacturing processes?

Traditional manufacturing processes cut the shapes from an existing material

How long have we been using 3D printing methods?

3D printing is a 30 year old technology – only in the last 10-12 years have the social, economic and environmental benefits been harnessed to make new products.

How does 3D printing work?

There are two ways of manufacturing 3D printed products:

  • Red Rap (replicating rapid prototype) – this is the cheaper 3D printing process which uses a ‘glue gun’ style object controlled by a computer
  • Power based technology with a laser – more expensive method

What are the current advantages of 3D printing?

One of the main advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce a completely bespoke design that can be adapted easily and quickly at the CAD stage.

There are also many potential medical uses, for example a windpipe was grown on a 3D printed mould from an MRI scan which saved a patient’s life.

How will 3D printing be used in 5-10 years?

3D printers will have their main impact in the repair sector, people will be able to print the parts they need rather than replacing the whole product. We won’t see 3D printers in every home. Home computers do not have the capabilities to work with 3D printers and not everybody can produce CAD drawings which you need to manufacture a 3D product.

How will 3D printing be used in 50 years?

3D manufactured products will make storage easier and simpler e.g. manufacturers will not have to store car parts, they will be able to make a part as and when it is needed.

We will also be able to print multi-functional printed systems, printing not just the outer casing but also the inner workings of a product.