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In its latest blog, Stratasys Gold Reseller SMG3D - www.smg3d.co.uk - looks at the future of 3D print and the more practical hidden uses of the technology:

The Future Takes Off for 3D Printing

People both inside and outside the 3D printing industry invariably get excited about the future. If you ask anyone on the street to envisage how 3D printing will change their life, they will probably conjure up Star Trek-style scenes: "Gin and slimline tonic, in a crystal glass, slice of lemon, crushed ice..." And out it pops in seconds.

Will this happen? Maybe one day, but we are not there just yet. 3D printing at home is hugely exciting and set to grow considerably. However, some more hidden uses of 3D printing are happening now and are totally revolutionising the way things are made.

3D printing has traditionally been used mostly by designers, for product designers who want prototypes or for architects who want to visualise plans. Few people considered that it would be used for creating end-use parts. However, just recently, the new Airbus A350 XWB took to the sky with over 1,000 Stratasys 3D printed parts on board.

The aviation industry is, thankfully, extremely stringent about how aircraft are made. Every single component on an airliner goes through the most exacting tests to ensure that it is safe. 3D printing has now been proven to meet these requirements and will continue to improve in performance. What was unthinkable yesterday is the reality of today.

So what does the future look like for 3D?

Manufacturers are realising the benefits of the technology. They understand that if you only need a small number of a particular component, then 3D printing is ideal. It saves both time and money to 3D print something in low volumes because creating tools are removed from the equation: load in a CAD file, press print and out it comes.

Need just one air duct on an airliner? Perfect application. Need two million drinks bottles? Other techniques are currently better suited.

However, as the technology improves, the definition of 'low volume' will shift upwards. More and more components will start to be 3D printed. The Boeing 787 broke the record by flying with 30 3D printed parts on board. The new Airbus has 1,000. How many will the next generation of airliners have?

Don't just think that 3D printing means 'cheaper' and 'quicker' though (as if that is not enough of a benefit). It can also mean 'better'. 3D printing allows much more complex shapes to be manufactured than traditional subtractive techniques.

A good example of this is shown in the video below. It shows how a carbon fibre duct could be improved in performance thanks to a novel way of using 3D printing:

So, ask someone on the street about what 3D printing means for the future. It is probably not going to be an excited discussion about air ducts. Explain that 3D printing means cheaper products that work better though? Maybe that is a bit more compelling! The hidden uses of the technology are where the greatest advances are being made.

But people will still want that instant G&T...

For further expert opinion, and to discuss your particular 3D print requirements, talk to SMG3D on Tel: 0844 880 4596 or visit www.smg3d.co.uk