Through the doorsThere's every chance that behind this door lies a 3D printer... or a body.
In my role I am lucky enough to get to see some pretty impressive facilities across the UK, Europe, USA and beyond. People making everything from hearing aids and dental aligners to Nascar engines and parts for planes. The most impressive thing about these places is often the decidedly low-key nature of the buildings. From 20th floor design studios in the heart of a big city and sheds in towns to small industrial estates in the middle of nowhere — they’re all hiding a ‘secret’.
It is in these places that AM and 3D printing are hiding out of sight. Right across the globe this often-startling technology resides in the most humdrum of buildings. There’s no fanfare, nothing particular about the door behind which these machines lie. They’re just there, humming away and helping people make better things.
Since the start of the year I have been through a number of these unremarkable doors and seen machines that cost less than £1000 up to machines that cost more than £100,000 doing their thing with a minimum of fuss. Down in Newbury I saw a herd of EOS machines making parts for aerospace, medical and automotive customers. Yesterday I saw an ExOne S-Print being used in a foundy (well, six interconnected foundries actually, but more of that in the next issue) to make engines for road and racing cars. In the next week I will be seeing how 3D printers are being used in the animation industry.
In Birmingham I saw 3D printers next to processes that haven't changed in over 100 years — not replacing old techniques and expertise, but enhancing them.
Anyone that still hasn’t grasped that AM and 3D printing is having real and tangible effects today needs to start opening some more unassuming doors — you never know what’s behind them.