3D Print Manufacturing Adopted Faster Than Anticipated

Are 3D print advancements across all industries really that far off? While 3D print experiments with organs, clothes, tools and even food have been widely reported, businesses are now fully adopting the technology into their operations.

3D Print and Clothing Industry

Last year, the fashion world played around with designing and producing 3D printed clothes for their top end lines. The manufacturing of expensive pieces in small batches lends itself to accretive technologies.

Recently, a more mainstream implementation of 3D print in fashion was displayed by high-end retailer Ministry of Supply at its Boston location. The clothing retailer is touting its custom 3D Print-Knit blazers made right in the store. The 3D Print-Knit process at Ministry of Supply is streamlined and modern with no sight of mass manufacturing. Instead custom orders produced quickly in the store.

Athletic Shoe Giant Leveraging 3D Print

3D print in the fashion business officially moved up to the big leagues when Adidas announced it would mass-produce a 3D-printed shoe in 2018. The global athletic shoe company will be able to make batches of its custom Futurecraft shoes rapidly with the help of 3D print technology. For Adidas, it's not just about manufacturing efficiency as they are working to develop a better show design with the 3D print process.

It’s a big leap for many companies to think about integrating 3D print into their everyday operations. A lot of businesses may be unsure how the technology can effectively impact the various facets of their production process.

Caterpillar: An Implementation Example

Caterpillar, a global manufacturing giant has successfully added 3D printers to its research and development department and manufacturing process. Caterpillar’s 3D implementation process was recently detailed on Engineering.com as a prudent model to follow while allowing businesses to scale to the appropriate level based on business size.

3D Print and Caterpillar Pre-production

Caterpillar’s engineers use desktop 3D printers for early iterations and designs before any advanced manufacturing begins. Before the desktop 3D printers were installed, company engineers utilized stereolithography machines in their rapid prototype lab. Now instead of going to the lab, engineers have the ability to make models at their own desks.

3D Print and Caterpillar Manufacturing

Caterpillar embraced a "start small" mentality when adding 3D printers to their manufacturing process. This approach can be applied to the number of machines purchased or to the training programs needed for employees to get up to speed on the new technology.

Over time, Caterpillar grew from small 3D printing training sessions to more involved 3D printing training summits. The education and camaraderie among the company’s 3D print employees has blossomed since the technology was first introduced.  One of the ways, this innovative environment has evolved is through regular 3D design competitions. All employees in the 3D manufacturing department are encouraged to participate and test their skills. The competitions keep the flow of creative manufacturing ideas going.

3D Print and Caterpillar Product Development

3D print is having a positive impact on Caterpillar’s significant aftermarket business (Making new parts for equipment that is several years old) and its costs in time and labor. With their 3D printers, Caterpillar focused on the 3D scanning of older inventory in order to better support their aftermarket products that need parts after decades in the field. When an aftermarket order is placed, employees can refer to the 3D scan and print out the parts requested.

3D print technology is enabling Caterpillar’s products to be made in less time and at a cheaper cost. The industrial printers work so efficiently they saved the company $160,000 on a single project where train track links were replaced with new 3D product.

3D print manufacturing is set to be a part of the next business revolution. Large companies have started the business integration trend and it will spread to companies of all sizes across various sectors.

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