Consider this remarkable factoid: This past January the British Royal Air Force (RAF) was able to service and successfully fly some of its Tornado fighter jets with spare parts that were 3-D printed!
It's no wonder that 3-D printing is frequently referred to as the "third industrial revolution." 3-D printing allows objects to be created quickly and cost-effectively with advanced customization and convenient deployment. By investing in 3-D printing technology, the RAF expects to save £1.2m over the next four years in maintenance and service costs.
Across industries, 3-D printing offers the potential to revolutionize asset maintenance and manufacturing, laying the foundation for speedy, smart factories to pop up in almost any location.
Build a Spare
3-D printing works by depositing a building material layer by layer, in cross sections, to build up a 3-dimensional object. In most consumer-grade 3-D printers the material is a type of polymer. But industrial level 3-D printers can also create metal objects by fusing together metallic powder.
3-D printers take input from 3-D object design software, like CAD or 3-D modeling programs, and can be configured to accurately reproduce the object and maintain correct dimensions. This allows for a high level of flexibility and customization and reduces time-to-manufacture while providing the ability to quickly change a design without costly expenditures.
The applications in industry are wide and varied, from rapid prototyping, to on-demand manufacturing of difficult-to-obtain spare parts, to revolutionizing healthcare through customized prosthetics.
3-D Printing Brilliant Factories — Anywhere
One of the greatest advantages of 3-D printing is its ability to create a factory in almost any location. 3-D printing equipment can be deployed on site and can drastically reduce the costs and time associated with traditional manufacturing supply chains.
Current 3-D printing technology is suited for low-volume, short production runs. But as the technology evolves, 3-D printing will not only improve in terms of quality and speed, but can also leverage the connectivity of the Industrial Internet in innovative ways. Imagine a level of service where real-time feedback from intelligent assets such as wind turbines can trigger on-site 3-D printers to start producing replacement parts as soon as a problem is detected. Cost-effective, quick, and configurable, the connected 3-D printer would serve as the actualization arm of the Industrial Internet.
While still in its infancy, 3-D printing has already been used to make airplane parts, weapons, and even human tissue. Both NASA and Airbus have big aerospace plans for 3-D printers, with NASA planning to put a 3-D printer on the International Space Station and Airbus planning to 3-D print an entire plane by 2050.
Coupled with the advances in connectivity, sensors, and analytics, 3-D printing appears poised to be a vital component of the Industrial Internet, helping to provide robust, quick, intuitive, on-demand manufacturing to solve problems across industries.