If you’ve tracked some of the hot topics in engineering over the last year, you’re likely very aware of 3D printing or additive manufacturing. This method lays down successive layers of plastic or metallic material that then fuses them together. Over time, those successive layers add up to make fully formed components...
Yes, it is true that even today, so many years after 3D printing started to garner attention and acclaim, rapid prototyping remains the single most common use for 3D printers. 3D printers offer the innovator advantages in the form of shorter turnaround times, improved development secrecy and greater design freedoms. But…it is also true that 3D printing isn’t going to remain as a tool for primarily rapid prototyping for much longer.
It has often been noted that many of the aircraft and other weapons systems used by the armed forces are older than the service men and women operating and maintaining them. While the average age of a U.S. domestic commercial airliner is 11 years, it is not uncommon for aircraft to still be in service at 30 years. Likewise, there are many machines and systems in electric power generation, discrete parts manufacturing, chemical process, oil and gas production and many other industries that have been in continuous operation for several decades or longer.