Caribbean News Now!

About Us Contact Us

Countries/Territories

Jump to your country or territory of interest

Advertise with us

Reach our daily visitors from around the Caribbean and throughout the world. Click here for rates and placements.

Contribute

Submit news and opinion for publication

Subscribe

Click here to receive our daily regional news headlines by email.

Archives

Click here to browse our extensive archives going back to 2004

Also, for the convenience of our readers and the online community generally, we have reproduced the complete Caribbean Net News archives from 2004 to 2010 here.

Climate Change Watch

The Caribbean is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels brought about by global warming. Read the latest news and information here...

Follow Caribbean News Now on Twitter
Connect with Caribbean News Now on Linkedin



News from the Caribbean:


Back To Today's News

Technology Matters: 3D Printing: The future is now
Published on April 24, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Bevil Wooding

How 3D Printing is Changing the Shape of Businesses

Ever sketched a design idea on paper and wondered what it might look like if it could be brought to life? An earring design, a pendant, perhaps? A sculpture, or special widget? Or even a house plan?

bevil_wooding2.jpg
Bevil Wooding is the chief knowledge officer of Congress WBN, a values-based, international charity and the executive director of BrightPath Foundation, a technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email
One of the greatest challenges faced by artisans, entrepreneurs and small business operators is turning an idea into a tangible product. Often, the task of moving from concept to a functional prototype can be so difficult, many great ideas simply remain just that – ideas.

The advent of affordable, consumer-friendly, 3D printing technology presents an answer to this universal challenge and offers big opportunities for small businesses. It is an intriguing intersection of design, manufacturing, sports, engineering and technology with implications for sectors as diverse as health, education, home improvement and space exploration.

A Printing Revolution

3D printing is not really that new, it’s just newly affordable. Its popularity was confined to the world of engineering, architecture and manufacturing until the last few years. That all changed with the introduction of relatively low-cost 3D-pirinters, and the wider availability of 3D-printing software, online how-to guides and thousands of practical applications. This convergence has sparked a 3D printing revolution, fuelled by mainstream media interest and growing popularity with consumers and small businesses. Today, 3D printing is one of the most hyped advancements in the technology arena.

Why? 3D printing puts the power of affordable prototyping and short-run manufacturing into everyone’s hands. With one machine and a digital design, 3D printers can build a three-dimensional object of virtually anything right on the spot. It can allow jewelry designers, for example, to go from flat sketch to an exact physical model in just hours.

Driving Innovation

A relatively sophisticated, 3D printer can cost between $2,500 and $5,000. Cruder models are available for as little as $300-$400. This is giving rise to a growing community – from individual inventors and creative types, to nascent businesses – exploring the potential of 3D printing. They are driving innovation beyond the novelty of uniquely made printed objects.

Now, boutique engineering and manufacturing firms as well as aspiring inventors and innovators can afford to offer clients physical mockups and models of design concepts. Do-it-yourselfers can print replacement parts for common household items such as washers, picture-frames and light-fixtures.

In Sierra Leone, David Sengeh, a 27-year-old doctoral student, is using 3-D printing and advanced math to create a new kind of artificial limb he believes can significantly improve the lives of amputees in Sierra Leone and across the rest of the world. Earlier this year, NASA announced that it would be sending a test 3D printer to the International Space Station to allow astronauts the ability to print their own spare parts.

Business models are evolving as well. A number of companies are emerging that will enable anyone to upload a design to a website and order and receive their ‘prints’. Companies like Sculpteo and Shapeways take it even further. They help promote and sell products in a 3D marketplace. They will take the orders, print it and send it to interested buyers. You collect the profit from your designs. This opens a world of possibility for creative types who would typically be stymied by the hurdles of traditional manufacturing and sales processes.

These types of innovation create unique opportunities and threats for a broad range of industries. Companies can take advantage of the local 3D printing and use it to create cheaper, more responsive supply chains.

Room for Improvement

For all the hype, there remain several constraints to 3D-printing moving into mainstream consumer applications. Though many things can now be 3D-printed, there are limits. One limitation is size. The size of the object printed is constrained by the size of the printer. Another limitation is the material used for printing. The majority of 3D printers on the market use plastics. The technology is advancing quickly though, to enable more base materials, like metals, and also to enable multi-material printing.

Perhaps the biggest limitation to mass adoption of the technology, however, is ease of use. 3D printing is not yet a simple click-and-print experience for the end-users. You have to know how to level a print bed, fine-tune printing settings, and handle fragile parts and complicated software. The technology still has to get to the point where a user can simply push a button and trust that things will work as they ought to.

Shaping the Future

But things are on the right track and manufacturers as well as entrepreneurs have great incentive to accelerate the pace of 3D printing innovation. Analyst firm Gartner predicts the rate of growth for worldwide shipments of sub-$100,000 3D printers to rise 75% in 2014, fuelling shipments of 98,065 units.

“The 3D printer market has reached its inflection point,” said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, in a statement. “While still a nascent market, with hype outpacing the technical realities, the speed of development and rise in buyer interest are pressing hardware, software and service providers to offer easier-to-use tools and materials that produce consistently high-quality results.”

“As the products rapidly mature, organisations will increasingly exploit 3D printing’s potential in their laboratory, product development and manufacturing operations,” he added. “In the next 18 months, we foresee consumers moving from being curious about the technology to finding reasons to justify purchases as price points, applications and functionality become more attractive.”

There is no doubt 3D printing is here to stay. Today’s early adopters, such as do-it-yourself types, entrepreneurs and hobbyists, will be key to driving wider consumer adoption in the future. For local small business owners, artisans and educators, now is a great time to begin exploring 3D printing to help shape that future.

Five Benefits of 3D Printing

3D printers work a lot like inkjet printers where is digital document is used to create printed pages. But instead of depositing ink on a page, 3D printers employ an additive process to deposit layers of material that can be plastic, metal or even living cells, to create three-dimensional physical objects. 3D printing offers compelling benefits, here are a few:

Cheap Manufacturing
3D printing can be used to realise lower shipping and packaging costs related to overseas parts suppliers. This can prove extremely cost-efficient for a small businesses, particularly those with customized product offerings.

Personalization
Although currently 3D home-printed objects are not necessarily cheaper than their mass-manufactured counter parts, printing your own personalized objects can be a satisfying experience for many.

Rapid Prototyping
3D printers can reduce the time it takes to manufacture a prototype from several days or even weeks, to a matter of hours. This translates into massive cost savings and facilitates an on-demand manufacturing model that can radically accelerate speed with which products can go from research to market.

Lower Cost, Less Waste
Additive manufacturing uses less energy and reduces waste. The result is lower impact on the environment and significant cost savings in the manufacturing process. The cost of 3D printed objects is expected to be lowered by improvements to additive manufacturing techniques, cheaper consumables, main stream adoption and self-replicating practices.

Democratization of Design
As the costs fall, usability improves and the technology becomes more accessible, more people will be able to design and produce the products they need, when they need them. This type of consumer empowerment will radically redefine the contemporary industrial supply chain.

These are early days still, but the future is waiting to be printed.
 
Reads: 3534





Click here to receive daily news headlines from Caribbean News Now!



Back...

Comments:

No comments on this topic yet. Be the first one to submit a comment.

Back...

Send us your comments!  

Send us your comments on this article. All fields are required.

For your contribution to reach us, you must (a) provide a valid e-mail address and (b) click on the validation link that will be sent to the e-mail address you provide.  If the address is not valid or you don't click on the validation link, we will never see it!

Your Name:

Your Email:

(Validation required)

Comments:
Enter Code



Please note that, if you are using an AT&T domain email address, e.g. att.net, bellsouth.net, sbcglobal.net, the verification email will likely not be delivered. This is outside of our control and the only remedy seems to be for readers to complain to AT&T





Disclaimer
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment author and are not representative of Caribbean News Now or its staff. Caribbean News Now accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Caribbean News Now reserves the right to remove, edit or censor any comments. Any content that is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will not be approved.
Before posting, please refer to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

The Caribbean Writer 2014


Other Headlines:



Regional Sports: