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3D Printing: Not Just for Small Toys and Models

By Mitch

December 4th, 2023


A lifesize 3D printed bridge over a river
The world's first 3D printed bridge

A common problem for those enthusiastic about 3D printing is that it’s seen as being just for small toys and models of movie and TV characters. Although a lot of home users do use their 3D printers for just that purpose, in this article we’re going to show you that 3D printing is not just for small toys and models.


So, What else?


3D printing is much more than just a hobby reserved for making future landfill fodder.


There is a vast array of things that are far more useful to manufacturing, medicine, prototyping, dentistry and so on. These may not seem obvious to the uninitiated but for those in the know, 3D printing is fast becoming the go-to method of producing usable items quickly and cost effectively.


Let’s then look at some of the other things that you can produce using 3D printing.


Prototyping


Plastic and metal gears and wheels
Politech uses 3D printing in all it's prototyping


In terms of prototyping, product development and manufacture, 3D printing is an invaluable tool. Prototypes can be transferred from the design table to the printer in a matter of minutes and then printed relatively quickly.


3D printing is capable of creating complex geometries that would be both and time prohibitive through the more traditional fabrication process. The functionality and efficiency that can be achieved through being able to print and test new prototypes, and then print and test them again and again if necessary is saving companies both time and money.



Jigs, tools and fixtures


A 3D printed corner jig holding two pieces of wood together
3D printing is ideal for jigs and other small tools


Jigs and corner clamps used in woodworking and other manufacturing processes are pretty easy to design and 3D print. They also have the advantage of being fully customizable so you can therefore print exactly what you need without having to buy a new one.


Tools and accessories are a bit of a grey area when it comes to 3D printing as you don’t want to make something that is going to be put under extreme pressure or torque. Things like hammers and screwdrivers wouldn’t be entirely practical but bevel gauges, parallel marking tools, rules and contour duplicators are all handy little tools that can be 3D printed.


Fixtures such as hooks and corner joints for boxes are also useful 3D printed items as are shelf supports, handles and hinges. A lot of these will even “print in place” so things like hinges will be ready to use straight off the print bed.



Automotive parts


An interior view of a car
Replacement or upgraded car parts can be 3D printed


3D printing is ideal for making interior car parts such as dash panels, switch covers and door pockets. It’s also great for electrical casings and machine housings but the correct type of material needs to be used in such scenarios.



Prosthetics and Dentistry


A 3D printer making a prosthetic jaw bone
Dentistry and prosthetics are made much more quickly when 3D printed




There are applications for the use of 3D printing in making prosthetics and other medical aids which is greatly helping the lives of those that need it. These could include anything from a splint or support for an injured limb to an actual prosthetic limb itself. 3D printing is also being used to create internal organ valves and tubes which is greatly speeding up the transplant and recovery process.


Dentistry is also benefitting from the use of 3D printing as dentures, implants and other artificial dental appliances are increasingly using the technology.



3D Printers


A 3D printed 3D printer
Even a 3D printer can be 3D printed!


No, that’s not a typo. The original idea behind the invention of the modern 3D printer was that it would be able to print itself. In other words you would be able to completely re-print a working 3D printer using the 3D printer you own. There are obviously limitations to this as while you can print the circuit board, you’d still need to add the circuitry and other wires and control panel etc. It is however possible to 3D print a 3D printer.




Houses


A large machine 3D printing a building
3D printed housing makes for quick and economic construction


Another one that may surprise you but there is a growing demand for 3D printed housing and buildings as well as bridges and other structures.


These can be made in a few different ways such as printing in sections for assembly on site, printing as a whole unit and then placing on site or just 3D printing a building on site and where it’s going to stay.


Different materials can be used to 3D print houses and the scale of the machinery is obviously a lot larger than your average 3D printer. However, the technology is pretty much the same as that used in FDM 3D printing.



Shoes


A white, 3D printed sneaker
3D printed shoes are fast becoming very popular


There’s a fast growing trend in 3D printed shoes which has even been taken on by some major shoe manufacturers.


The flexibility of certain 3D printing filaments allows for this advancement in the footwear market but it’s still worth noting that the majority of shoes on the market aren’t fully 3D printed. Manufacturers are however using 3D printing technology to print soles and inners for trainers which allows for more complex design and flexibility.


As for fully 3D printed shoes, you can certainly find plenty of designs around but not necessarily for sale as a finished product. You could of course design and print your own but the downside to 3D printing shoes is the size issue. The average home FDM printer will restrict the size of shoe that you could print but it’s certainly possible to print shoes for those with average to small feet.



Conclusion


So there you have it. Hopefully now you’ll agree that there are a lot more practical and in some cases life changing things that you can produce with a 3D printer.


Obviously this is just a broad sweep of the sort of things that you can do but if you have a deeper dive you’ll find much more to show you that 3D printing is not just for small toys and mo


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