The Uses of 3D Printed Models

By Shaun Bryant

Now that there is a process where the 3D conceptual design (inside your computer) can be made into something real (outside your computer, in the REAL world), it has revolutionized the world of design. Designers and manufacturers can now 3D print anything and everything they need to.

The following discussion provides just a small overview of some of the uses of 3D printed models around the world right now.

Prosthetics

One of the more humanitarian and heartwarming uses of 3D printing is in the medical industry by way of 3D printing human prosthetics. Using nanotechnology for incredible accuracy for the fit to the human form, 3D-customized prosthetics that would normally cost in the region of $50,000 can now be replaced with their 3D printed equivalent, which will sometimes only cost in the region of $50.

This ability has led to a movement within companies, such as Autodesk, to work closely with individuals who need prosthetics and the companies that provide them, sharing the technology for the benefit of the person requiring a prosthetic.

An incredible organization called the Enable Community Foundation pairs volunteers in the e-NABLE community with designs and children needing prosthetic limbs, such as arms and hands, even giving the kids the choice of design and colors they want. In fact, a UK-based company called Open Bionics even offers low-cost, 3D printed hands with famous movie themes, such as Marvel’s Iron Man, Disney’s Frozen, and Disney’s Star Wars, as shown here. Open Bionics also offers free downloads of 3D designs that can be 3D printed, such as the Ada prosthetic hand shown.

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Credit: Open Bionics.
The range of children’s prosthetic hands available from UK-based company Open Bionics.

Rapid prototyping

Rapid prototyping is probably the most popular use of 3D printing. Manufacturers can now design and print on site, saving a lot of time and money on outsourcing this type (pardon the pun) of work to a third-party. 3D designers can then test and calculate whether their design fails and needs reworking much faster. 3D printing their design allows them to identify any design problems, fix them, and then reprint them.

In previous years, traditional prototyping was an expensive process, where (often) a full design was modeled, built, and then tested against specific project standards. This could take weeks, or even months, for more complex 3D models. The new rapid prototyping methodologies with the new, faster 3D printers allow companies to even 3D print in parallel, creating many variations on a theme so that they can compare each design to work out which one works best. This process is sometimes known as iterative design. This kind of rapid prototyping can be used in any industry, especially for nondestructive testing objects, such as eyeglasses, mobile phones, and even children’s toys.

Education

3D printing is becoming extremely popular at all levels of education. It’s not just being used for product design and engineering. 3D printing is also being used as an educational resource for the future. The world of 3D printing is growing rapidly, and schools, colleges, and universities are seeing that there will be a high demand for students with 3D printing and CAD skills. The following figure shows schoolchildren using a 3D printer in the classroom — a valuable resource for children learning technology and design in class.

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Credit: Materialize.
Schoolchildren using a 3D printer in the classroom.

Education has to prepare the workforce for the skills needed in the future, and 3D printing is right up there. There is, however, still the need for education funding to ensure that students have full access to the 3D printing equipment, and that momentum needs to be maintained. 3Ders Autodesk works closely with many schools promoting Tinkercad as an entry-level application that gives the children access to 3D modeling and 3D printing. Figure 1-11 shows the Tinkercad team at work.

Low volume manufacturing

Many organizations and companies in the product design and manufacturing industries are moving from rapid prototyping to low volume manufacturing. There is often a need for only a small run on a specific part or product. If only, say, 50 copies of a part or product are needed for a low volume manufacturing run, it’s likely to be much more cost-effective to have them 3D printed than shipped to a large-volume third-party manufacturer.

Bespoke manufacturing

Sometimes a bespoke or customized product or part may be needed. In manufacturing, it’s often much less expensive to quickly 3D print a unique product or part like this as the materials can be obtained for the 3D printer and it can be individually designed and 3D printed in-house, instead of having to go to an external design company.

An example could be the production of a box with a client’s logo embedded or embossed in it. This would be a great Tinkercad project!

Dentistry

I can bet that when you have been to your dentist, she has, at least once, taken an impression of your teeth to create a copy (sometimes known as a stone) to store for dental and legal reasons. On a macabre note, should you die in suspicious circumstances, dental records have been used for identification purposes. On a much brighter note, 3D printing is now becoming used as the norm in dentistry, allowing dentists to use a 3D dental scanner. This process captures a 3D image of your mouth, which means that the stones can be printed on demand, negating the need for the dentist to store hundreds of thousands of stones in a warehouse for many years.

Dental labs can now use 3D impressions of your teeth to create perfect fitting crowns, bridges, and implants. This ability saves on the time taken for these dental items to be made, reduces the risk of error, and saves the dental lab (and you) money. The following figure shows a partial dental framework, model, and crowns waiting to be 3D printed. The dentist, with appropriate 3D modeling training, can do this in-house for his patients, saving valuable time and money.

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Credit: Dental Wings, Canada.
A nesting of partial dental framework, model, and crowns waiting to be 3D printed.