Seven innovative real-world case studies of 3D printing

Posted on 22 Feb 2019 by Maddy White

3D printing is enabling some remarkable things, it is transforming many industries from space and the construction sector, to the automotive industry. Here are seven innovative real-world applications of 3D printing.

The technology is shaping up to be a highly sought after one, and for good reason. In some instances it is curing environmental disasters, and in others it is transforming healthcare, ultimately saving lives.

orbex space engine = image orbex
The world’s largest 3D printed rocket has been unveiled – image courtesy of Orbex.

If businesses can really begin to expand on the potential of 3D printing, then this could further drive other industries and innovations forward.

1) Space

Earlier this month, UK-based company Orbex unveiled its “Prime” rocket that is powered by the world’s largest 3D printed rocket engine at its base in Scotland.

The business has completed engineering on the rocket, which is made from a specially-formulated lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium composite.

The rocket engine was 3D printed in a single piece. Given the extreme temperature and pressure fluctuations involved in space flight, this gives the engine an advantage over other rocket engines, which can suffer from weaknesses associated with joining and welding.

2) Housing

ICON's 3D printed house that can be built in 24 hours. mage courtesy of ICON.
Some 3D printed houses can be built in 24 hours – image courtesy of ICON.

With the current housing crisis gripping the UK, it makes sense to look at alternatives to traditional housebuilding techniques.

3D printed houses could potentially be cheaper and quicker to construct.

3D printer manufacturer ICON teamed up with non-profit organisation New Story, to build one of the first 3D printed homes in America.

The company believe they will be able to create a portable printer that could print a single story, 600-800 sqft home in under 24 hours, and for little more than £3,000.

3) Medical

Metal joint implants that are 3D printed could last longer than regular implants, be more durable and potentially save the medical industry money it so desperately needs. Chris Sutcliffe, R&D director for Renishaw, explains.

As the clear outer layer of the human eye, the cornea has a crucial role in focusing vision. Scientists at the University of Newcastle have devised a 3D printed version of the human part, meaning the process could be used in the future to ensure there is no shortage of corneas.

The earbuds are hexagonal in shape – image courtesy of Elen Parry.
3D printed wireless earbuds could be used as headphones– image courtesy of Elen Parry.

A new 3D printed wireless earbud design could be used as headphones, boost a users’ hearing ability by tuning out background noise, and help tackle stigma around traditional hearing aids.

4) Automotive 

Lamborghini has announced it will use 3D printing company Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology to produce end-use components for its Super SUV, the Urus.

The 3D printing technology is being used to optimise existing vehicle components, making them more lightweight and durable. This follows other automotive companies such as McLaren Racing using 3D printing techniques for parts in order to gain advantage in its F1 cars.

5) Environment

Prototypes of different shape and surface have been 3D printed for trials this year in Curacao, Bahamas, Mexico and Guam - image courtesy of SECURE.
3D printing can also offer benefits to the environment – image courtesy of SECURE.

3D printing can also offer benefits to the environment. Producing artificial corals via 3D printing methods could help to improve the devastation caused by bleached corals.

The design of a reef is complex and intricate, and could most accurately be replicated by using additive manufacturing technologies.

6) Weapons

Perhaps one of the few negative outcomes of 3D printing is the creation of counterfeit goods.

3D printing has the potential to make firearms more readily available to people who are not authorised to have them.

However one technology advancement, which the research team from the University of Buffalo calls “PrinTracker,” could potentially help police and intelligence agencies track the origin of 3D printed guns.

7) Power generation

Siemens has reportedly 3D-printed and engine tested a dry low emission (DLE) pre-mixer for the SGT-A05 aeroderivative gas turbine, claiming it shows potential to significantly reduce emissions.

This is an example, where 3D printing has enabled a simplified process, a reduction of external dependencies in the supply chain, and also improved the actual component, which has meant – according to the company – a lower emissions rate.

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