Imagine a printer the size your back yard. It’s enormous gears whir and buzz as it’s arms move steadily back and forth over…metal?

Printers are certainly familiar enough to us in this day and age. There aren’t many employees that haven’t had a run in with an office paper printer at one time or another. These days, however, printers aren’t just printing on paper. Now, cutting edge research manufacturers have begun printing in 3D! Is this our future as well?

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, uses advanced computer technology that creates a 3D model of the blueprint, for example, of a door knob, and the printer begins to work. This process adds layer upon layer of materials onto the door knob, rather than removing pieces by cutting them away. The print head makes passes over the platform, and, with every pass, deposits more layers of metal until the object is complete. To help you envision, imagine a printer building up layer upon layer of ink on a piece of paper. Quite literally, 3D printing builds from the ground up.

The benefits and capabilities of 3D printing are currently being explored. Will it be cost-effective? How intricate and precise can 3D printing be? What are the expectations of industries across the globe? Can 3D printing technology translate into large items, too? Judging from the 530% jump in share prices for the Swedish 3D printing company, Arcam, large manufacturers across the globe seem to think so! The aviation industry in particular has been poised on the edges of their seats, eager and excited for what 3D printing technology could bring them. As a matter of fact, we have been as well!

At the moment, 3D printing remains small scale. Products manufactured through this process are usually customized, complex constructs of small size, such as dental implants, parts for race cars, and aircraft components, such as fuel nozzles and engine pieces. Unfortunately, the process still remains expensive and the production remains small.

Until the bumps and wrinkles are ironed out of this progressive technology, we remain here with more capability for precision and complexity, and greater volume and quality. If you’re looking for metal production, we’re here to help. And don’t worry—we’ll keep an eye out on 3D printing technology for you.