We all understand the biggest benefit of 3D printing, and that is to be able to create a three-dimensional object in an additive manufacturing process, not a subtractive one. No tool and die, no machining process, no wasted material, less manpower, less energy consumption…the list of benefits goes on and on. But there’s another benefit that people new to the idea of 3D printing don’t often think about, and that is the potential reduction, or even complete elimination of, the assembly process.
As an exercise, think of a toy manufacturer that wants to create a scaled down, working model of a ferris wheel. He’d need to create the wheel itself, the individual carts that attach to the wheel, and the stand that seats the axle of the wheel. The wheel would have to be able to rotate in its circular fashion, while the carts would have to be able to move freely back and forth as the ferris wheel turns.
In a traditional manufacturing environment, after the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the tool and die process, they would produce the stand, the wheel, the carts, and miscellaneous parts, and then assemble them together to create the working ferris wheel. Obviously, using a 3D printer instead would allow them to skip this soon-to-be-archaic process and just print the parts and then send them to the assembly line. Not so obviously, is that a high end 3D printer could print the entire working ferris wheel in one print run, complete assembled. Now, the entire manufacturing and assembly process is replaced by one run of a 3D printer.
The video shows just this, accomplished on an Objet Connex500 multi-material 3D printer. If it doesn’t blow your mind, then you simply don’t appreciate the implications. Extrapolate this process to the power of 3D printers we’ll see in five to ten years, and think about what else we can make beyond ferris wheel demonstrations. This isn’t the first 3D printed assembly like this, but I saw it this morning and thought that it so well represents the promise of fully assembled products through additive manufacturing that I would share it with you.