What Consumer Products Can Be 3D Printed?

11 January 2023
glass printing9 1075x605 1
[Image Credit: drupo]

 

Additive manufacturing is cropping up within almost every industrial production context. Equally, the design of consumer goods has become no less intertwined with its technologies. 

Indeed, this is so much the case that some might call the title of this article partially misleading – it implies that a significant quantity of consumer goods are yet to be manufactured additively, or considered prospects for the process. This is not the case.

As any search engine can attest to, almost every ‘object’ conceivable, regardless of its commercial status, has at some point been considered a successful candidate for AM production, forming a catalog that runs seemingly endlessly. In a world where wood, food and shelter can all be additively manufactured, 3D printing is recreating the most basic building blocks of human existence and persistence. 

However, this is only half of the story. It is not just the replication of traditionally manufactured consumer goods by way of AM that poses great promise. Just as importantly, additive manufacturing opens up a space for these objects’ reinterpretation, the technology’s design freedom welcoming manufacturers to restructure and push the boundaries of their products’ abilities.

In this article, we delve into the ways in which both durable and non-durable consumer goods are being 3D printed today, as well as how AM is allowing the latter to adopt properties of the former. 

Durable Goods

 

3d printed bicycle seat
[Image Credit: Carbon]

A durable good is a consumer item which is not easily worn out with use, affording it a notably extended lifespan. As products designed for long term usage, they traditionally run at a higher price than non-durable goods, requiring higher quality materials, intricate design and longer production times in order to guarantee their endurance. 

With the dawn of additive manufacturing, however, approaches to instilling durability have been excitingly overturned. Beyond the historically central value-add of rapid prototyping, end-part production has blossomed in the 3D printing sphere, with more and more companies turning to its design freedom and diverse range of resilient materials.

Metals like titanium, used to print medical implements such as hip implants, and composites such as carbon fiber based substances, boasting a renowned strength to weight ratio, are just two examples of the remarkably strong materials 3D printing is able to mold and form.

Eyewear is one product category which has ventured significantly into the AM sphere, with a small collection of fashion brands driving the trend and exploring the design opportunities the technology unlocks.

Adidas’ 3D CMPT sunglasses, for example, were printed in partnership with eyewear world leader Marcolin Group, composed of flexible nylon. Weighing in at a mere 20 grams and incorporating nosepad non-slip contact points, the glasses’ design makes for a uniquely comfortable wear.

Another example can be found in Fizik’s 3D printed bike saddles, employing the same Carbon EPU material range used to create Adidas’ 3D printed 4DFWD trainers. Employing a complex lattice structure and programmable liquid resins, the resulting saddle padding is described by Fizik as “resistant to both UV exposure and prolonged, repeated use”.

Today, premium durable goods can be produced in a fraction of the time conventionally required, whilst also featuring intricate, ergonomic and avant-garde design; the combination of these characteristics is enabled solely by way of additive manufacturing.

Non-durable Goods

 

3d printed cookie
[Image Credit: The Guardian]

As with durable goods, AM provides the opportunity for experimentation and innovative development where non-durable goods are concerned. 

Non-durable goods are those which are specifically designed either for single use or utilization over a short timescale. Though fleeting by nature, these items are no less important than their durable counterparts: from food products to paper and even medicine, their consumption broadly permeates our everyday lives. 

As with durable goods, the element of freedom afforded by additive manufacturing plays a large part in fitting the technology to the production task. Items can undergo unparalleled degrees of customisation, an exciting prospect for multiple industries. 

In the culinary sphere, 3D printing has been equipped in some high-end restaurants, introducing an entirely novel experience for chefs and diners alike. Machines range from being ingredient-specific, such as the chocolate-based ‘Mycusini’ from Print2Taste, to facilitating a wider range of foodstuffs, as with the more diverse menu offered by Natural Machines’  Foodini, impressively capable of printing whole burgers. 

On the other end of the consumables spectrum, several companies are beginning to offer 3D printed medication, countering the depersonalized approach of mass production and offering entirely customizable medicines to patients. As discussed in our article on additive manufacturing in healthcare, machines like FabRx’s M3DIMAKER, the first printer designed to create custom medication, are transforming what it means to receive tailored treatment. 

Though durable and nondurable goods may be considered antonyms, additive manufacturing is not picky when it comes to lighting the way for product development. The suitability of 3D printing to both these genres of consumer products testifies to the technology’s multifaceted flexibility. Strong or fragile, raw or recycled, the material catalog available for 3D printing is outstandingly expansive and only continuing to grow. 

 

Crossing the boundary

 

woman sifting through box of 3d printed fabric
[Image Credit: PROMOSTYL]

Despite the surface level opposition between these product genres, some products are not so easily categorized, existing in a gray area between the two. Excitingly, in such cases, 3D printing can play an essential role in not only recreating them, but redefining which category they inhabit.

The contemporary phenomenon of ‘fast fashion’ exemplifies this well. Though clothing has historically fallen under the label of a ‘durable good’, accelerating trend cycles encouraged by social media’s intensifying influence is rapidly challenging that.

More and more, clothing items are rarely purchased to last, both due to the eagerness of consumers to keep up with trends and the worsening quality of fashion items, manufactured hastily and using cheap material to keep demand and profit up. 

Clothing in 2023 has become non-durable, a shift which is taking its toll on the environment. However, with additive manufacturing on the scene, this could soon change. 

Designers like Julia Daviy are taking advantage of the technology to rethink the fashion production lifecycle; her pieces, constructed of 3D printed vegetable-based plastics, are entirely biodegradable. Allowing consumers to safely dispose of their unwanted items with little weight on their conscience, and even to print new pieces within the private runway of their own homes, Daviy’s work is setting the pace for a new era of fashion, in which a fast wardrobe turnover need not inflict long-term damage on our planet. 

Durable goods, non-durable goods and everything in between can benefit from the groundbreaking opportunities for innovation which additive manufacturing unfolds. 

 

Seizing The Mainstream

 

Though 3D printing’s employment has undoubtedly been gaining momentum across the board where consumer products are concerned, a long road lies ahead before it can approach dominance as a manufacturing mode, especially considering the sheer size of the consumer market. 

Alongside the necessity of gaining industry-wide exposure and showcasing its benefits, the actual activity of scaling production to the level necessary for widespread production of consumer goods presents a challenge in itself. 

This is where AMFG’s MES solution for end-to-end management of additive manufacturing workflows comes in.

Whether producing jewelry or medicine, cosmetics or chocolates, AMFG’s software is built to adapt to each business’ individual parameters, moving large-scale production from an intimidating challenge to a thrilling opportunity for growth. Book a demo today to find out how your business’ consumer goods production can permeate an entirely new scale.

The exceptional flexibility afforded by additive manufacturing, both at design and production levels, is allowing businesses to rethink the degree to which consumer demand can actually be met on an individual scale, bringing high quality, fully customizable pieces to a larger audience than ever before.

 

Enjoyed this? Check out our article ‘Additive Manufacturing in 2022: The Ultimate Rundown’.

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