– Bishnu Parajuli | Saroj Lamichhane

Manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, machine tools, production lines and economies of scale. So, it is startling to visualize manufacturing with no tooling, assembly lines or supply chains. However, this is exactly what is happening as 3D printing is reaching the world among individuals, small businesses and corporate departments, and ultimately is redesigning and revolutionizing the manufacturing industries.

3D printing was introduced to the world in 1980s but it has not been long since it started to make a huge leap in the field of manufacturing. Although Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute (NMIRI) is regarded to have printed the first object from a digital design, it is Charles Hull who is credited for the design of first 3D printer.


Things have improved in past couple of years as government and business houses across the world are becoming aware of its advantages. More researchers are delving to explore its hidden potentials in all sectors of manufacturing from human tissue to spacecrafts. Conferences and seminars are becoming more common, and it has ignited broad industrial and consumer interest, with potential implications ranging from personal fabrication to disruption of traditional supply chains. The economic implications of 3-D printing are more significant: the McKinsey Global Institute Research (2013) suggests that it could have an impact of up to $550 billion a year by 2025.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing, long used for rapid prototyping is now used to create a 3D object using technique called additive manufacturing. The 3D object is created by layer-upon-layer printing approach until the entire physical product is designed from digital design. The material used for 3D printing can be anything from plastic, liquid, carbon, ceramic, wood, and metals. This innovation in the manufacturing industry has power to transform the product design, development and manufacturing. It’s a factory without a factory floor and it has created a podium for innovation, enabling manufacturing to flourish in uncommon areas and incubating a new generation of do-it-yourself (DIY) manufacturers.

How does it work?

3D Printing is like 2D printing but instead of ejecting ink on paper, 3D printers eject material and build up parts layer by layer. In order to print a 3D object, we need to have its model which can be either designed using CAD software or 3D scanner. 3D scanners use various technologies like volumetric scanning and modulated or structured light to generate a 3D model. After we feed the digital file to the 3D printer, 3D model is sliced by the 3D printer. The slicing enables the printer to print the parts of the model, layer by layer.

A new wave of innovation in the manufacturing industries:

A machine that can make copies of almost everything, that too in 3D seems like science fiction but 3D printing is already in use in various fields. According to a recent survey of 100 industrial manufacturers, more than two thirds have already embraced the technology.

3D printing overcomes the manufacturing limitations and design complexities and enables production of lighter and critical components of aerospace and automobile industries. The applications are emerging in medical and dental fields as its beneficiary along with gas and oil companies, and high tech companies.

3D printing has already been used to print toys, jewelleries, candies, and various metallic parts. It has also opened new doors in the field of bio-printing as human ears, blood vessels, nose, prosthetic limbs, bones, and skin has already been 3D printed. The bio-engineers at the University of Louisville have already printed a coronary artery, small blood vessels of heart muscle and are hoping to soon print a functional heart.

The use of 3D printing in food industry is growing although it is at pilot phase at the present. Barilla has produced 3D printed pasta, and Oreo have used it to make Oreos with different flavor fillings. Modern Meadow is doing an interesting research to check the sustainability of 3D printed food. The company believes that the slaughtering of animals to obtain animal by-products is unsustainable and that we might be better off trying to 3D print our meat. Although, it might be decades rather than years away, it however shows that the researchers and industrialists are cherishing the opportunities unlocked to them by 3D printing.

3D printing can be done near the point of consumption, and implies a serious change to supply chains and business models through manufacturing innovations.

Manufacturing industries has long been adopting 3D printing to produce prototypes, but the developments in 3D printers has made a promising remark across industries and it is sure to change the future of manufacturing industry. Gradual improvement in accuracy, size and quality has enabled 3D printing to be used to develop lighter parts for airplane, car bodies and topographical models. The 3D printing process generally takes several hours to complete depending on the size and complexity of the object to be printed. The relative advantages of 3D printing over conventional manufacturing are many, and more are yet to unfold. 3D printing not only enables manufacturing of complex shapes and geometry through unlimited possibilities in design but it also saves time and money through reduction in wastes, and cost through shorter design, process and production cycles. And, as the production is close to the demand, the supply chain is then simplified with much less inventory.

The economies of aftermarket services and the structure of the industries will endure a complete change when the 3D printers can manufacture the parts for replacements according to the demand. Large regional warehouses could be replaced when the on-site additive manufacturing capabilities will be developed with relatively small facilities. In this way, the traditional supply chain management challenge can be solved, with increase in customization offerings to changing customers meeting their preferences and needs creating intelligent impacts at various levels of manufacturing.

The main challenge of 3D printing industry is to expand the technology to print more functional and finished products in high volumes. There are also censorship issues as people have also made guns that actually work. Also, the material choices are limited and it takes long duration of time to completely print a three dimensional object at present. It is essential that manufacturing industries realize their possibilities when the recent obstacles in 3D printing are overcome.

3D printing has been developing incredibly and generating excitement in past few years. Recently, researchers from MIT have developed a 3D printer which can print 10 materials simultaneously and they are aiming to print fully functional objects like circuit boards as soon as possible. Stratasys, a leading company in 3D Printing Solutions, introduced multi-material 3D printer for the first time in 2014, but the breakthrough achieved by the MIT researchers is sure to spark enthusiasm in many manufacturing industries and the admirers of the profound technology.

3D Printing is potentially predicted to have a greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than all of the innovations from the industrial revolution combined. The prospect of this additive manufacturing opens infinite opportunities and has the potential to change the course of human life. This technology is poised to enhance not only innovation in manufacturing industries but also deliver cost benefits. It might just be the technology that defines 21st century’s breakthrough, which could bring forth massive changes in manufacturing and engineering processes.

It’s quite straight forward and is ushering a new era!

Bishnu Parajuli and Saroj Lamichhane are pursuing Industrial Engineering (Batch of 2070’) at Institute of Engineering, Thapathali Campus. Reach them at bishnu.parajuli13@gmail.com and 213saroj@gmail.com.