Palmer, Alfred T, via Wikimedia Commons
The past year has served to shift additive manufacturing more into the mainstream consciousness, with widespread media coverage informing the general public of how 3D printing technology is being used to manufacture everyday items relating to the man on the street.
Consumer goods manufacturers have adopted additive manufacturing and related advancements to improve efficiency and cost-management on their production lines, potentially passing on these savings to customers. Indeed, some of these ahead-of-the-curve companies will be present at this year's TCT Show + Personalize at the NEC in Birmingham on September 25th and 26th both in an exhibitor capacity and as registered visitors.
Metal additive manufacturing experts LPW Technology has been working closely with garden shed favourite Black & Decker to develop tools using its expertise in metal powders and alloy development, for example. But it is not just functional products from the factory floor that make use of the intricacies of 3D printing technology in their mysterious inner workings, as 3D printing systems are being used to realise imaginative, decorative designs. ExOne's growing range of metal 3D printing materials is being adopted by manufacturers to create ornate designs for homeware such as railings, doors and cabinets with a range of finishes.
Plastic injection moulding specialists Rutland Plastics is proud of its work in the consumer arena as well, with its electrofusion technology being used in making plumbing pieces. The company's growing portfolio of plastics also has innumerable uses from small domestic appliances such as kettles and hairdryers to packaging materials and shoe soles.
One of the sexier arenas 3D printing technology has moved into is the film industry, and Propshop is one company that has established itself as the go-to specialist for Hollywood, having used its advanced technology to help create sets, props and models for big-budget productions such as Martin Scorsese's Hugo and the James Bond film Casino Royale. Propshop's rapid prototyping portfolio includes 3D-printed night vision goggles used in the film Zero Dark Thirty and 3D-printed details for one of the Aston Martins used in Skyfall.
And 3D scanning technology is also being put to use in the consumer products sector, with Hexagon Metrology using its sophisticated non-contact measuring systems to ensure exact geometry. Hexagon Metrology works with household names such as Siemens and Bosch, while its technology has been used by the Brompton bicycle company in its inspection work to ensure components are an exact fit and will stand up to the rigours of inspection.
There will be plenty of opportunities to rub shoulders with major players in the consumer goods sector because, as well as there being strong representation on the main show floor, the event is due to host a score of visitors representing some of the biggest household names on the planet. Among these recognisable brands are Bosch, Hewlett Packard, Fuji Film, Lego, Unilever, Xerox, Denby Pottery, Hasbro, Clarks International, Dyson and Google; companies that have recognised the fact that if they want to stay competitive, they have to know where additive manufacturing technology could take them as they develop.