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3D printing: New challenges, opportunities for enterprises

Rebecca Merrett | Nov. 25, 2013
3D printing has been around for many years, but it's only now starting to reveal its potential to transform other industries besides manufacturing. The growth of 3D printing in the enterprise is set to create a new set of challenges for CIOs, as IT organisations grapple with new sources of data.

"Because 3D printed parts do not need to release from a mould, the sides of a part do not require a taper, greatly simplifying the 3D model therefore taking significantly less space than a model intended for injection moulding."

3D printing to transform retail, healthcare

3D printing is starting to make its way into a broader set of industries besides industrial-type manufacturing. The retail and healthcare industries in particular are tapping into the technology to print highly customised products.

Neiman Marcus, a major upscale retailer in the United States, recently announced an agreement with Shapeways to produce 3D printed customised jewellery. An order is made through, then Shapeways prints and ships the product from its Long Island City factory and the customer receives the item within three weeks.

"3D printing enables a company to go from design for manufacturing, to manufacturing of the design. So you go from the compromises that are inherent in designing for a high-volume manufacturing process, compromises that may take you away from what the marketer feels is the ideal look and feel of the item, to the ability to manufacture the ideal design of one custom item," Basiliere says.

Nike launched its first 3D printed football shoe base plate this year, offering a premium product targeted towards professional sports players. "You are able to do something with 3D printing that was not possible before and you can redesign a product altogether differently," Basiliere says.

Disney World in Florida is producing miniature figurines of customers by scanning a customer's head and 3D printing it onto a Stormtrooper body to sell as a souvenir.

The healthcare sector is experimenting with using 3D printing to produce medical implants, printing with bio-compatible plastics rated for use inside the human body.

"For example, you could scan somebody's ear, remove part of the cartilage, print some material that replaces that same shape, embedding it with electronics for your hearing aid," Bender says.

"They can use stem cells as one of the base materials in the printing process for manufacturing skin. There are universities working with the current 3D printing technologies to print replacement organs, such as kidneys from the donor's stem cells.

"It won't be too far before things like bionic ears or implants are internal or under the skin."


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