By enabling designs or design cycles which were previously achievable using conventional methods, 3D printing technology is helping businesses implement improvements in material selection and product design, bringing new and innovative business models to light and helping establish cost-effective processes to make businesses more efficient.
A great opportunity exists to significantly improve productivity on the modern manufacturing floor, linking the IoT and 3D printing to gain smarter ‘real-life’ insights over the competition, combining the two to make business production processes more efficient than ever before.
3D printing technology is becoming increasingly popular in the automotive, electronics, and healthcare industries, to name a few, and the IoT can play an important role in ensuring quality control by connecting big data analytics to 3D printing through the strategic use of embedded sensors.
The IoT involves a constantly-growing number of sensors and devices gathering every possible bit of data about human behaviour and interaction, and allowing businesses to gather information about how their products behave, and use it to understand and predict future behaviours.
By placing sensors to collect and analyse manufacturing information to detect production problems in real time, the technology can identify factors such as temperature and structural integrity that help improve the quality of output coming from the manufacturing floor. This is something that is already being applied by companies such as GE Aviation in the aerospace industry.
It is therefore safe to say that 3D printing has huge market potential and is likely to be increasingly used to manufacture a broader and more complex range of products such as electrical and optical sensors, antennas and circuitry used for industrial IoT applications that make devices truly ‘smart and connected’, in the future.
In the next few years we are also likely to see some rapid advancements in metal 3D printing to produce a wider range of finished goods, including more medical implants than is possible today. The speed of printers is expected to increase too. Research is underway on how to combine different types of materials such as metals and plastics in a single build cycle, and how to embed components such as sensors, electronics and batteries.
In other words, whilst 3D printing helps offer businesses the flexibility to reimagine how parts are designed and manufactured, opening up further opportunities for improvement and product line expansion, the IoT can add to this by making the technology more flexible and accurate through the data it is able to collect and utilise, helping meet new demand expectations.
The rise in digital manufacturing across Europe offers a new generation of engineers and designers the perfect opportunity to bring their ideas to market at speeds never before experienced. Furthermore, IoT solutions are in a great position to merge with the new digital manufacturing processes, to help bring together the new ‘digital enterprise’ of the future.