Imagine being able to print anything from clothes to replacement parts for a car. That concept may soon by a reality thanks to 3-D printing.
Local manufactures are already using the new technology, and experts said companies who don’t get on board may regret it in the future.
With endless possibilities out there, virtually anything can be made. Plastic gears, chocolate treats, metal turbine parts, even an animal’s heart are all examples of what is possible with the revolutionary new technology. All of it was made not by machines and labs but by 3-D printers.
Andrew Linnell, the president of the Greenville Maker’s Group, built his own 3-D printer with the help of another 3-D printer, by printing the gears needed for his own personal printer on another.
“With technology like this you can just take whatever idea you have, create the model in the three dimensional modeling program on the computer, and within an hour you can have the actual prototype part printed to any scale that you want,” Linnell said.
The concept may be difficult to understand, but it’s really simple. The printer builds the design one layer at a time using heat or binding agents to help particles adhere. But like anything, there are limitations. Factors such as the material, speed and size are the shortcomings facing this technology’s new frontier.
Yet down the road, the possibilities are endless.
Phil Yanov, CEO of Tech after Five, is convinced one day 3-D printers will be in most peoples’ homes.
“We're at the beginning of a place where anybody will be able to 3-D print the things that they want,” Yanov said.
Experts predict the technology will change the entire shopping experience. Instead of choosing items off the rack that are massed produced, consumers will be more likely to make their own clothing and shoes that fit their body types perfectly.
Susan Molnar, the community outreach officer of Greenville Maker’s Group, has used her 3-D printer to make jewelry.
“I drew these from scratch and I put them through my 3-D printer and colored them,” Molnar said.
South Carolina has the fastest growing manufacturing sector out of any state on the East Coast, according to a recent U.S. Commerce Department Report.
Jon Warner, the president of Innoventure, remarked on the possible threats 3-D printing could have to local manufactures in the Upstate.
"Anytime you have a technology like this, it's potentially disruptive because it comes from the low end,” Warner said. “It's a different business model and what people often do is dismiss things like this because it looks small and inconsequential and never amount to much, and those are the things you really need to be careful of."
The big, internationally-known company branches located in the area are not hesitating. They’ve already fully embraced the technology.
Jon Schaeffer is the managing director of General Electric’s oil and gas team at Greenville’s turbine plant. He and his team use their 3-D printer to make metal prototypes.
“It’s a new frontier for manufacturing,” Schaeffer said.
But he also identifies some risks. Scanning machines coupled with printers make it easy to copycat virtually anything, which could create more competition with big named companies such as GE.
Linnell is also convinced of the possible economic threat.
Companies that don't adapt to new technology that comes out, well, they're going to go the way of the dinosaur,” Linnell said.
He can only hope he’ll have a leg up when the technology goes mainstream.
The Greenville Makers Group is hoping to buy a 3D Printer that the public can use and is asking for donations to make that possible. Please click here for more information.
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