Additive Manufacturing has moved beyond the realm of prototyping and has become an effective way to improve the way parts and tools are produced in the aerospace industry. Additive Manufacturing makes it possible to print objects in remote locations as the delivery of goods is no longer a constraint. This advantage of Additive Manufacturing has made possible the use of 3D printing in space. NASA is testing Additive Manufacturing in zero gravity in hopes of establishing on-demand generation for astronauts. This will allow component parts for maintenance and repair of the international space station to be produced in space. This would reduce the need for the shuttle to travel to the international space station to deliver parts, thereby greatly reducing the lead time for spare parts. A reduction in lead time means a reduction in inventory and a reduction in costs. To measure cost reduction, it costs about $10,000 to transport one pound of material into space (King, 2012). This could not only be used for repairs on the international space station but could also allow for deep space crew missions, as parts can be easily manufactured on the shuttle. The ability to print on demand eliminates weight restrictions on spacecraft by reducing the amount of cargo space needed and the need for spare parts (NASA, 2014).
Boeing and Airbus are active in Additive Manufacturing component parts. There are 200 component parts used in 10 different military and commercial jet models. No malfunctions have been reported with these parts. Airbus has Additive Manufacturing component parts on its A380s, namely cabin brackets. Component parts manufactured by Additive Manufacturing enable more efficient and lighter designs. A lighter aircraft offers significant cost savings; one kilogram reduction equates to fuel savings of $1,300 per year.
One of the first applications of 3D printing was in the automotive industry. General Motors has been using Additive Manufacturing to prototype for over 20 years to accelerate time to market and reduce product development cost (Fish, 2011). Prototyping is not the only application of Additive Manufacturing in the automotive industry. In 2011 Kor introduced Ecologic Urbee. The Urbee is the first car to have its exterior and interior completely printed. This helped eliminate excess parts that cause drag and add weight. While the car is currently a prototype for developing efficient vehicles, the company hopes to launch the Urbee 2 for consumer use. The use of Additive Manufacturing for automotive manufacturing can effectively change how vehicles look and function in the future. Vehicle and component manufacturing is another benefit that applies to the automotive industry. BMW uses this technology to print hand tools used to install bumpers and license plates.
The medical industry has found revolutionary ways to implement Additive Manufacturing. Manufacturing custom implants such as hearing aids and prosthetics was one of the first ways Additive Manufacturing transformed the medical industry. Practitioners can now scan a patient using CAD software, fabricate a custom implant or prosthesis, and fit a custom component tailored to the patient's unique needs. Personalized implants reduce the time and cost of surgery as well as reduce the risk of post-operative complications. Production time is also greatly reduced. Before Additive Manufacturing, patients had to have molds made, which would then be produced. It is a process that can take months. Additive Manufacturing allows prostheses to be produced in just one day, sometimes even a few hours. Prostheses were only the first step in the production of components for the human body. Practitioners were able to print organs that were functioning properly. Most importantly, a team led by Anthony Atala printed a human bladder using 3D printing of biocompatible materials. Living cell layers are deposited on a gel medium and gradually formed to form three-dimensional structures. 3D bioprinting has been used to produce and transplant a variety of tissue types, including skin, bone, vascular grafts, heart tissues, and other vital tissues and organs. Another application in the medical industry is 3D printed dental copings. Dental copings are used in dental crowns and bridges. These items can be printed quickly, are durable, and can be fitted to the exact specifications of the patient's mouth. This application of 3D printing has already been implemented as a way to improve the patient experience by creating a range of dental and orthodontic appliances (2013). Related applications of 3D printing include reconstructing bones, body parts and severely damaged evidence from crime scene investigations in forensic pathology.
Computer simulations and wooden models have traditionally been used to review designs. Additive Manufacturing brings realistic and unparalleled detail and precision to routine execution. Once an architect has designed a building, it is now possible to upload those drawings to a printer and get a full-scale model of the building. This is an effective tool for architects as it allows for smaller scale improvements to the design, thereby improving the architectural plan. The ability to review a model saves valuable time and money from rework. Models are not the only way Additive Manufacturing benefits the architectural industry. The construction industry can benefit from this technology in terms of shorter construction time, manpower and cost, while also enabling increased customization. Various research groups around the world are making progress towards printing presses. A group of Dutch scientists built the KramerMaker, a 6-foot printer. This printer can print plastic parts measuring 2.2 × 2.2 × 3.5 m. A research group in the UK is working on printing similarly sized concrete component parts. Researchers were able to demonstrate the ability to press components from cement mortar (2013). The ability to print housing components could be an effective way to provide low-cost housing to poverty-stricken areas, potentially revolutionizing the way homes are built.
As Additive Manufacturing enters the retail industry, 3D-printed shoes, apparel, and consumer goods enter the market. Retail is poised to reap some key benefits from innovations in 3D printing. According to John Hauer, co-founder and CEO of 3-DLT, the rapid prototyping capabilities of 3D printing will create localized manufacturing, thus reducing supply chain costs and creating better products overall. Hauer said: “Products are entering the market faster as better designed products, possibly with more end-user feedback, because they can play with a working model of the product” (2014). Time and money spent estimating what consumers might want to buy in the future and how much of the product needs to be made can cost companies billions of dollars. By allowing retailers to create and deliver small quantities of products in real time, 3D printers can provide actionable insights into which products will actually drive demand. For example, if a 3D model is well received, it can be mass-produced through traditional production channels to meet higher demand (2014).