Many people still think of 3D printing as more of a concept than a useful business application. We hear of fascinating use cases now and then, but we’re still at a stage of exploration, in a way – figuring out what 3D printing is capable of, and pondering possibilities for the future. The reality, though, is that a lot of interesting and popular companies are already making use of 3D printing on a regular basis and in useful ways.
Here are five such companies that might surprise you.
It’s quite possible that down the line, NASA will showcase some of the most mind-blowing uses of 3D printing we ever see. After all, there have been some stories about the organization going as far as to explore the use of the technology for the construction of buildings in future space colonies!
Already though, there are simpler and more current examples of 3D printing’s utility in outer space. Our own article on 3 printing tools that could save astronauts’ lives in space pointed to NASA’s 3D printing program and some of the early experiments the organization has conducted with it. So far much of the potential seems to surround medical equipment, in that life-saving tools can be printed in space from designs sent from Earth. But the truth is that NASA is probably only getting started with all of the ways in which it could similarly use 3D technology to benefit astronauts.
It may shock some to learn that Boeing – perhaps the most famous airplane manufacturer in the world – is already using 3D-printed parts in the construction of some of its planes. Specifically, the company is reportedly taking advantage of the fact that titanium can now be used in 3D printing processes, and is using the material for certain parts in 787 aircrafts. In this case, Boeing appears to have transitioned to 3D printing primarily as a means of cutting costs, and is said to be saving millions.
Quip is a perfect example of how a company doesn’t need to have massive engineering projects to take advantage of 3D printing. Contrary to NASA and Boeing, which work on such a grand scale, Quip is a relatively new company that has found success producing what are essentially smart toothbrushes and oral care products. And in designing and manufacturing those products to go to market, Quip turned to this technology.
In its section on 3D printing, Fictiv quoted the co-founder and COO of Quip as saying that the technology was “really critical” to validating design decisions, which actually speaks to another benefit of 3D printing altogether. That benefit is essentially that 3D printing allows companies to test out prototypes and sample their own products without a more complex or involved initial manufacturing effort. Trial and error becomes more efficient (and likely more affordable), helping a company like Quip to ultimately end up with the perfect designs.
Medtronic may not be as relevant to the average consumer as Quip or even Boeing, but as one of the most significant medical device companies in the world, its embrace of 3D printing is potentially significant from a trendsetting perspective. At first, we primarily heard about Medtronic’s foray into the technology with regard to parts for manufacturing. However, the company has since grown more ambitious, and is looking more into specific medical devices and products that can be responsibly produced via 3D printing. Most notably, MDDI Online reported in 2018 that Medtronic is “taking spinal implants to the next level” with 3D printing, designing complex titanium products that can take the place of ordinary surgical implants.
Last but not least is Audi, the German auto manufacturer that for quite some time now has had a reputation for producing some of the sleekest and most high-performance consumer vehicles in the market. This is an interesting example in that one might imagine Audi to be a company that would stubbornly stick to tried-and-true methods – trust its existing engineering practices rather than dive into a new trend. And yet, the company appears to be more than open to the benefits of 3D printing.
In 2019, Audi’s own official media center revealed that the company was expanding its use of 3D printing in production, though it’s doing so more with regard to tools than auto parts. Audi has already succeeded in designing tools that can be printed out at various production facilities around the world, and then used by the manufacturers. It appears as if the company will now be doing this on a broader scale through the construction of a global 3D printing network, and it’s an interesting example of how 3D printing can sometimes be put to use in ways you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes 3D-printed products can help a company with its process rather than just its end product.
Expect lists like this one to continue to grow in the years ahead, as even more interesting uses for 3D printing are realized and adopted. Even now though, this is a fascinating spread of examples that demonstrates how far the technology has already come in modern businesses.