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What Is 3D Printing, Anyway?

...And What It Might Mean for Your Small Business

Polyjet 3-D printed parts
Polyjet 3D printed parts collection from

(SALEM, Ore.) - You’ve probably heard the buzz around 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. If you run a small business, you might even have an inkling that 3D printing has the potential to give you a competitive edge.

As is often the case, 3D printing’s buzz is a mix of hype and legitimate enthusiasm. Let’s strip this conversation down to the bare facts and review what 3D printing actually is — and what proven applications it might hold for your small business.

Common Types of Additive Manufacturing Technology

These are four of the most common types of additive manufacturing technology.

  • Selective Laser Sintering: SLS is a cutting-edge process that uses energetic lasers to fuse high-tech powdered polymers into complex shapes. The finished surface is smooth, and the process requires no scaffolding or supports.
  • Stereolithography (SLA): SLA uses UV light to solidify and fuse liquid resins into incredibly complex geometries. SLA’s resin medium is quite durable, making this process ideal for prototypes and show pieces that need to stand up to the elements.
  • PolyJet: PolyJet 3D printing technology is another resin-based process that uses UV light to cure and fuse. Though it does require washable supports, the upshot is a smooth, photogenic finish. Some PolyJet resins are durable enough for use in tooling applications.
  • Fused Deposition Modeling: FDM is ideal for durable applications, like fixtures and tooling pieces. The process uses high-quality thermoplastics with exceptional heat and stress resistance.

There are other 3D printing processes out there, so don’t let anyone tell you this is the last word on the matter.

3D Printing Applications

3D printing has a surprising array of applications. Some are more relevant to small enterprises than others, like these:

  • Rapid Prototyping: If you’re in the midst of an iterative research and development process, you’ll almost certainly need to deploy multiple prototypes along the way. Each step takes time and resources that you may well feel you can’t spare, so anything you can do to reduce turnaround times is welcome.
  • Creating Physical Marketing Collateral: Want to make an impression at an upcoming trade show or demo day? Using one of the 3D printing technologies outlined above, create a physical centerpiece — a prototype, perhaps, or a more abstract demonstration of your product or solution. As long as it garners a second look, you’re in business.
  • Small-Run Manufacturing: Additive manufacturing is a great solution for small-run manufacturing, also known as small batch production. If you’re looking to produce a relative handful of marketable products, one of the processes outlined above may offer a cost-effective alternative to traditional (subtractive) manufacturing.
  • Custom Manufacturing: What about single-item manufacturing runs? Any of these 3D printing technologies is appropriate for custom manufacturing, no matter how demanding your clients’ specs.

Building Your Business’s Future With 3D Printing Technology

When you’re worried about conserving what precious cash you have, you probably lack the bandwidth to turn up a state-of-the-art 3D printing lab at your office. The good news is, you don’t have to. A growing network of additive manufacturing firms will happily handle your 3D printing needs from ideation to creation, no matter how complex your vision.

Your dreams are just waiting to become reality. Are you ready to let them fly?

Source: Special Features Dept.


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