General Electric, Ford Motors and Mattel are companies which develop and manufacture distinctive products but all incorporate one common technology when in development, 3D printing. These 3 companies as well as many others are pushing 3D printing further into the mainstream.
Moving away from traditional methods, where objects are cut or created from molds, resulting in wasted materials, 3D printing allows these workers to model an object on the computer and print it out with a wide array of materials including plastic and metal.
"It allows us to be far more productive, efficient and innovative in designs," said Scott Goodman, senior vice president of global product development at Mattel Inc.
While the cost of 3D printing is still higher than traditional methods due to the high cost of 3D printing materials, these companies realize the costs of such materials will fall as the demand for 3D printing increases. As the 3D printing market grew 29.4% in 2011 and global revenue is expected to increase nearly twice by 2015, their early investment in 3D printing brings them many benefits.
Here is how these 3 companies utilize 3D printing in ways that could significantly impact their business.
Rather than having to inconveniently go to the nearby garage to fix your car, this auto maker sees a future where customers will be able to print their own replacement parts. Ford is looking to having customers log onto the web, scan a bar code and have the parts printed in hours or minutes.
However for now, Ford is using 3D printing to prototype automobile parts for testing vehicles. Ford engineers have been using professional 3D printers to produce prototypes of cylinder heads, brake rotors and rear axles in less time than traditional methods. By using 3D printing, Ford saves an average of one month to create and test their prototypes, a great improvement from the previous 4 to 5 months with traditional practices.
In the next few years, the plane you will be flying in may come with some 3D printed parts.
General Electric's Aviation unit develops and prints out fuel injects and other components of the jet engine. By 2016, the 3D printed engine jet is expected to be implemented on commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 737 MAX and the Airbus A320neo.
Mark Little, senior vice president and director of GE's global research group, stated that building jet engine airflow castings through 3D printing will create more precise products and will save the company money in the long term.
"We can make these parts in a way that we simply couldn't make them before to get better cooling passages and better cooling efficiency," Mr. Little said.
In addition to aerospace, General Electric is also experimenting with 3D pritning to create a medical device called the ultrasound probe. The device is supposed to transmit and receive signals which generate ultrasound images during medical examinations. The traditional method requires hours of cutting but using the probe will be much more efficient.
This toy manufacturer of multiple brands used to prototype toys from wax and clay before building production models out of plastic. However with new technology, Mattel engineers utilize 3D printers to create parts of every toy which it manufactures, from Barbie to Hot Wheels Cars.
However the toy maker draws the line at selling consumer software files which would allow the public to print out their own toys on low-cost 3D printers.
A company spokesman said the company couldn't guarantee toys that consumers printed out would be safe for children, a "topic that the entire toy industry will have to face and embrace" as 3-D printer use broadens at home.