This Could Be The Most Underrated Benefit Of 3D-Printing

Illustration for article titled This Could Be The Most Underrated Benefit Of 3D-Printing

We've been hearing promises that 3D-printing could revolutionize almost every aspect of our daily lives, from how we shop to the food that ends up on our plates. But is one of its biggest benefits going to be largely invisible to most of us?


After looking at these two, rather marvelous, 3D printed fuel injectors that NASA just successfully tested, a discussion began about how quickly the technique was able to cut down on fabrication time and labor — and whether 3D-printing might actually see less use in the home, and more use as a manufacturing tool:

Corpore Metal

This might be the unnoticed benefit of all forms of 3D fabricators.

Maybe it's not the low level consumer grades stuff we should be looking at. Maybe instead we should be looking at the major manufacturers and big businesses. If, for example, a major aerospace company can make rocket and jet nozzles more cheaply and reliably by this method than by old manufacturing techniques this might reduce old costs.


As an engineer it is generally known that the main benefit of 3D printing for the near and medium term has always been in engineering and industrial uses. 3D printing is great for low volume items such as complex rocket parts (That is if the material it prints is up to snuff. I believe SpaceX uses a type of Inconel in their 3D printed rocket parts) It is not great for High or even medium volume items. It takes too long.

Corpore Metal

And for building prototypes to test and experiment with.

What do you think? Will 3D-printing's biggest impact be in the home, the factory, the lab, or some combination thereof? Also, have you done any 3D-printing yourself? Tell us about it — and how successful it was — in the comments.

Image: Subhashish Panigrahi



It's hard to say, and I believe it depends on the level of regulation that is assigned to the printers and the designs that they print.

I like oldish cars. Not old enough that they were made entirely of metal, oh no, I like cars that are new enough to be made mostly of plastics, but old enough that the OEM plastic is dissolving, the world is running out of replacements for these little plastic baubles, and the OEM is not making them anymore.

Now, I direly (DIRELY) hope that 3D printing, in part, makes this a non-issue. Broke the center console trim on your 1989 Nissan 240SX? Go online, find a 3D printing design, load it into your printer, and fire it up. 2-6 hours later (or however long these things take to print), and you have a replacement part. I have a broken piece on my door panel (and a gash in my pinky finger to prove it) that I would replace right now if I could (without buying an entire door from a junkyard).

I am concerned, however, that Nissan might choose to step in and say "No, that's our design. You can't print that." They wouldn't be necessarily wrong either. It is their design. Their engineers figured out the shape of that door panel. Their machines created it. I'd be, for all intents and purposes, "pirating it".

This issue extends to many things beyond cheap automotive plastics from the Herbert Walker administration, and I think that, until this is fully addressed, the future of 3D printing is still kind of an unknown.