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Three ways 3D printing is challenging the norm of design and engineering

13 June 2016

The digital era is upon us. It isn’t just about doing the old things quicker. It’s about doing them in completely new ways.

The University offers the chance to have building designs developed as 3D printed models

Digitally progressive ways. Today, one technology in particular stands out – 3D printing. Nowhere is digital innovation more prevalent than in the use of 3D print technology. It offers transformative advantages at every phase of the creation process, from initial concept design to production of final products and all steps in between. It has enabled businesses to dramatically cut the time it takes to produce a product – often from two or three weeks to within hours, breaking down barriers and ensuring a faster time to market. 

For a long time, it was something that only larger manufacturers could afford due to due to the high investment costs. But technological developments in recent years have levelled the playing field somewhat with lower-cost devices making the concept accessible to a larger audience. This evolution is a huge boost to the entire industry and is challenging the norm of design and engineering in three major ways.  

In niche applications 

Through the process of turning data into physical objects, 3D printing is enabling difficult-to-manufacture products to be built where they’re needed. Today, a 3D printer employed in the right way essentially functions as a mobile factory.

Several of Canon’s customers in the marine, electrical and nuclear sectors use 3D printing to produce exceptionally niche component prototypes such as electrical connectors and bespoke sensor housing. 3D printing aids as a tool to visualise products in a way in which 2D cannot. By seeing and touching a prototype, customers are able to convey the right story and bring models to life. This way of working is helping speed up traditional processes and ultimately improves the way the businesses are run.  

In personalisation

3D printing also lends itself to mass customisation in a way that has not before been possible. Print management company, FT Solutions is leading the way in this space having recently extended its service offering to incorporate 3D printing by installing its first ProJet 660Pro. The new division, named FT3D, will see the company introduce ‘ME AND MY STAR IN 3D’, giving customers the opportunity to print a photorealistic 3D printed figurine alongside their favourite sports or entertainment celebrity. 

In education

The opportunity that 3D printing presents is also being reflected in today’s AEC courses as universities prepare and equip the next generation of engineers, designers and architects.  

The University of Nottingham’s Department of Architecture and Built Environment is one example. The University is one of the UK’s leading destinations for students who want to study architecture, urban design and sustainable energy technologies. As part of its architecture degree, the University incorporates model making into the students’ coursework to give them the skills required for their eventual industry roles. To ensure that students are familiar with all formats they teach traditional model making using paper, foam and plastic, as well as offering the chance to have building designs developed as 3D printed models. 

It’s an exciting time to be in engineering and design. The speed of innovation is breath-taking and the technology processes powering the industry are setting the standard across all sectors. Whilst in many cases, digital won’t instantly replace legacy, there’s a huge opportunity for those willing to truly embrace the potential of technology.


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