Monthly Archives: August 2016

Is 3D Printing The Good one

The process of 3D printing is quickly altering the way entrepreneurs think about their production cycles. Historically, 3D printing has been used to speed up the process of creating prototypes, but as the technology has evolved, 3D printing has made its way into large industries like the aerospace and biomedical fields. And it’s creating some groundbreaking results.

While 3D printers still have a long way to go before they are perfected, their increased adoption by companies big and small has signaled a change in thinking for businesses, during both the design and production phases. To find out more about how 3D printing technology is affecting business today and where it’s going in the future, Business News Daily spoke to engineers and entrepreneurs about the possibilities afforded by 3D printers.

3D printing

First of all, what is 3D printing? It’s the process by which three-dimensional digital models are made into physical objects using a 3D printer. Working in tandem with computer software, the 3D printer reads a digital .STS file on a computer and then uses a filament or a resin to render the digital representation in tangible material, layer by layer.

3D printers employ a variety of materials, including plastics and polymers, steel, titanium, gold, and ceramic. This versatility means 3D printed models can be used for everything from artistic sculptures to airplane components. Some 3D printers can even print proteins and chemicals, enabling the devices to create foods and medicines.

“I don’t think there’s a component made today that won’t somehow be touched by 3D printing in some fashion or another, whether directly or indirectly,” said Mark Cola, president and CEO of 3D printing and quality assurance company Sigma Labs.

Most experts agree major developments in 3D printing are just a few years around the corner, and these advances will revolutionize the way businesses think about manufacturing and their supply chains. First, let’s take a look at some of the ways businesses are already using 3D printers.

Applications for 3D printers

Prototyping

One of the oldest uses for 3D printers is the quick and efficient creation of prototypes. Since the printers were invented in 1983, companies have employed 3D printing in order to get a workable model of their desired end product, either to test the concept or present it to future investors.

“Before we called it 3D printing, it was called rapid prototyping,” Greg Paulsen, director of project engineering for third-party manufacturer Xometry, said. “It used to be seen as a way to get close enough to a functional model.”

Now, that’s changing. While entrepreneurs still gladly use 3D printing for prototyping, the technology has become more accessible and adaptable, leading to new applications.

Low-volume manufacturing

Though 3D printers can be slow-moving, they’re adept at fulfilling low-volume production needs. Much like with prototyping, if an entrepreneur is ready to launch a new product and isn’t certain of the demand, he or she can print up a small amount to test the waters. Low-volume production is also common when it comes to medical devices, for example, as manufacturers create, test and redesign their products for optimization.

“When small companies develop new products and need to make 50 parts to test, or just to bring to a trade show, tooling up for traditional manufacturing can be very expensive,” Doug Collins, owner of Avid 3D Printing, said. “They might not have the capital to tackle [traditional manufacturing]. 3D printers allow low-volume production without as much investment, so they can save that capital for the other important stuff, like marketing.”

Mechanical parts

Another beneficial use for 3D printers in is the creation of mechanical parts, either for sale in large industries or for personal repairs. Many products of 3D printing aren’t sold directly to consumers, but are created by companies (or third-party contractors) as components in a larger project. One example is GE Aviation’s 3D printed fuel nozzle, which will be added to the company’s CFM LEAP airplane engines.

Small machine shops or individuals looking to make home repairs can also employ the same techniques for their projects. 3D printing has made it far easier to reproduce parts for machines that might no longer be in production or that would take too long to arrive.

“I grew up in a small town of about 5,000 people. My stepfather is a mechanic, and he often needs to get specific parts that aren’t immediately available,” said Brent Hale, owner of 3D printing review website 3D Forged. “Rather than having to drive out of town to get a single part, or instead of having to wait weeks for a custom part to come in, if my stepfather or the small local hardware [store] have a 3D printer, he can purchase the printable schematics for the part he needs directly from the manufacturer — or design them himself — upload them to the 3D printer, and have his new part without having to leave town or wait weeks for the part to be shipped to him.”

Marketing and Training More Effective for Businesses

The term “virtual reality” (VR) might invoke memories of the 1982 cult classic “Tron,” but VR has evolved to the point where yesterday’s fiction is quickly becoming today’s reality. Now, this technology is poised to fundamentally change the way business people interact with, test-drive and market their products.

But the potential uses for VR don’t stop there; experts agree that in the future, VR will offer even more powerful capabilities to businesses and individuals alike.

It’s worth mentioning VR’s relation to augmented reality (AR), which uses 3D models to “augment” the real, physical world. VR, on the other hand, creates an environment that’s entirely separate from the one you’re standing in. Some experts told Business News Daily that they expect these technologies to converge over time. Indeed, that trend is already visible with the creation of products like Microsoft’s HoloLens, a headset with immense processing power that enables users to access both VR and AR programs.

Virtual reality’s business applications

From taking stock of inventory to hosting virtual conferences, VR can be applied to a slew of business needs. In general, VR allows users to immerse themselves in an environment that synthesizes a vast amount of data and presents it in a way that’s simple to understand and navigate. That data can then be stored and archived so that users can monitor trends over time.

Virtual reality is especially effective for marketing, because it creates an opportunity for businesses to establish a strong emotional connection among target consumers and their product.

“Right now, the most successful business use is marketing experience,” Maria Korolov, editor and publisher of business tech publication Hypergrid Business, said. “You take a little bit of your product, put it into a virtual environment and have people use it. It’s particularly popular with movies. You get the eye contact, you feel like you’re in a different location.”

“Brands will use virtual reality to improve customer experience that will ultimately result in the increase of customer loyalty,” added Sylvester Kaczmarek, a VR advisor and consultant for startups. “The aim for such VR initiatives should be to give the customers immersive and interactive experience that would increase their association with the product.”

VR can also be used in highly sensitive fields to ensure that employees are well-trained and qualified before they undertake important or potentially dangerous tasks. In the health care industry, for example, VR can be used to train and test surgeons before they actually operate on somebody. Some experts said that in the near future, VR might even be capable of simulating resistance as the surgeon operates on the virtual person.

“In health care specifically, employees can be tested on their proficiency in performing procedures in a virtual operating room,” Kayla Gallico, co-founder of VR arcade Arcane Reality, said. “Employers can determine if their potential employees have what it takes to work in the industry.”

What does the future of VR look like?

Of course, as the price point drops and the technology becomes even more powerful, more businesses will begin to employ VR techniques. Moreover, companies like Microsoft and Sony are starting to develop more sophisticated headsets that support both AR and VR offerings, making both easily accessible on the same platform.

“VR and AR will begin to blur [into] ‘mixed reality,'” said Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of prototype development at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. “Both are really about trying to combine the digital and the analog/human into some sort of experience.”

According to Richmond, VR technology is already starting to make its way into the business world after finding its entryway through the world of gaming.

“Currently, you’ve got VR starting to make inroads in entertainment,” Richmond said. “Architecture and real estate are embracing VR, and manufacturing and design are working with VR and AR. We’ve been using VR in health care for some time — for example, using it to treat PTSD — and that will be a huge growth industry for both VR and AR. Education is another adoption area.”

Contemporary iterations of VR still only scratch the surface of what many people expect for the future.

“One prediction for the next year: Individuals visiting VR worlds will finally become active participants instead of bystanders, as motion-capture devices transfer their actual movements and gestures in real time to virtual reality,” Shaun Walker, creative director and co-founder of marketing firm Herofarm, said.

Kirwan McHarry, marketing director for drone manufacturer Mota Group, believes that VR sensors will become smaller and lighter, while computing power will increase.

“This could mean greater image fidelity, more precise motion detection, along with lighter weight and lower cost,” McHarry said. “Another development may be the increased adoption of very lightweight goggle frames, such as the carbon-fiber headsets used in aviation.”

If McHarry’s prediction is accurate — and it seems to be the consensus among experts — VR and AR will quickly develop into a powerful tool, which can be coupled with the genesis of “smart objects” in the internet of things to create a radically different business landscape than the one we’re used to today.

How to Plan Your Workday

If you own a business, you probably juggle dozens of tasks each day just to keep it running. With so many responsibilities, a pen-and-paper to-do list just won’t cut it. That’s where your iPhone comes in: With the right apps and a little know-how, there are countless ways to plan your day, week, month and year. And if you just need to remember to make an important business call one hour from now, there’s an app for that, too.

Every iPhone comes with Apple’s own Calendar app, which offers basic functionality to help you schedule meetings, remember appointments and more. But the default app can’t do it all. Other apps offer deeper options and more streamlined functionality to help you stay on top of your daily duties. Here are five of the best.

Fantastical 2 is a top-rated alternative to the stock iPhone calendar app because it strikes a great balance between deep features and ease of use. It has all the features of competing apps, including the ability to view your calendar by day, week, month or year, and easily drill down to view individual events. And it lets you add events using natural speech, such as “Meet Ted for lunch at 2:00 on Tuesday.” Fantastical 2 parses your sentence to fill in all the relevant information and then automatically notifies you when the event approaches. Most important, the app is intuitive and easy to use. For example, moving an event to a different time or day is as easy as tapping and holding, and then dragging it to the correct spot on your calendar.