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3-D Printing - June 2017
3-D printing has taken off in recent years. An
additive manufacturing technique, it is the process of printing layers of
material on top of one another to “grow” a product. Product creation relies on
computer-aided design (CAD) files. Stereolithography software reads the CAD
file and uses a material such as paper, powder or metal to print the shape. The
number of printing materials available is constantly growing and currently
includes thermoplastics, edible materials, rubber, clay, porcelain, metal,
ceramic powders, plaster, paper and even human tissue.
There are five unique printing processes:
- Selective laser
melting or direct metal laser sintering: A laser is used to fuse together
metallic powder into the desired shape.
- Selective laser sintering:
Lasers are used to fuse together small pieces of material like plastic or metal
into the desired shape.
- Fused deposition
modeling: Plastic or metal wiring is unspun from a coil and printed in
layers to create the desired shape.
Ultraviolet-curable resin is laid down and built up, layer by layer.
Ultraviolet light is shone on each layer after it has been put down to solidify
- Laminated object
manufacturing: Layers of material are laid down and glued to one another
and then shaped with a laser or knife.
The technology for 3-D printing has been around for nearly
30 years, but it wasn’t until fairly recently that printers and printing
materials became an affordable option for businesses. Because of the high
demand for the technology, the price dropped from about $20,000 in the 1980s to
around just $1,000 today, leading to a rise in sales. And as the price dropped,
Printers that were originally used just for prototyping
began to be used to print manufacturing materials, such as molds. Today,
companies in a variety of industries, including architecture, construction,
automotive, dental and medical, engineering, biotechnology, fashion and
education are experimenting with using 3-D printing to manufacture end products.
This innovative practice comes with its share of benefits and risks.
3-D printing has a number of benefits:
- Less waste:
Unlike more traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques that remove
material by cutting or sawing to form a product, 3-D printing builds the
product from the ground up, resulting in significantly less material waste.
- Reduced overhead:
Printing materials and a CAD file are all that is required to create a product.
It’s not necessary to purchase molds, create custom manufacturing materials,
hire laborers or even have a designated manufacturing facility.
- Intricate details: Almost any shape imaginable can be printed, including shapes with complex
detail that would be costly and difficult—in some cases too difficult—to create
with subtractive manufacturing.
products: Some products, such as hearing aids and prosthetic limbs, are
time-consuming and expensive to create with traditional manufacturing
techniques because they must be customized to fit a single end user.
- Reduced warehousing
costs: Offering long-term warranties for replacement parts is much more
efficient for companies that utilize 3-D printing. The company can simply save
a CAD file for each product part and then print the part on an as-needed basis
instead of storing older parts in a warehouse.
It’s also important to recognize the potential risks that
this new technology poses:
infringement: CAD files that infringe on patents and design rights are
already beginning to show up on the Internet. The piracy of digital design
files will likely be widespread and difficult to police. Companies will need to
insure themselves against this risk and find innovative ways to guard
- Compromised supply
chain: Widely available CAD files mean that compromised parts could enter
the supply chain. Even if a company is not using 3-D printing in its own
operations, it is still at risk of manufacturing products with defective or
unsafe 3-D-printed components, and of being held liable for the resulting
- Exposure to ultrafine
particles (UFPs): Printers without proper ventilation can expose users to
the UFPs that are released during the printing process. Inhaled UFPs can cause
adverse health effects, including an increased risk of asthma, heart disease
- Global public safety:
Currently, no legislation exists to regulate 3-D printing, so anyone,
anywhere can download anything. In 2012, Defense Distributed, a company based
in the United States, created a CAD file for a 3-D printable gun. Soon after,
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called for the file to be taken down,
but not before it had been downloaded by more than 100,000 people in places as
far away as Germany, Spain and Brazil. There are more opportunities for
obtaining banned products with 3-D printing.
Like any technology, 3-D printing is not without risks, many
of which are yet to be discovered. Despite these risks, companies are looking
to 3-D printing technology to rethink processes and improve business
Industry experts predict that 3-D printing will transform
manufacturing as we know it. Exciting projects like rebuilding coral reefs,
growing functioning organs and body parts and replicating priceless artifacts
for scientific study will continue to capture the attention of the public and
encourage further innovation.
Have you considered the impact of 3-D technology on your
business? Contact CMR Risk & Insurance Services, Inc. today at (619)
297-3160 to learn more.