Big Data’s Role in 3D Printing

3D printing remains one of those technological areas that holds a great amount of fascination. What began as a type of niche market has expanded rapidly in the past few years to encompass nearly every industry out there, from the medical field to manufacturing.

The outlook is a positive one in terms of 3D printing’s future, with Gartner predicting the amount of spending on 3D printers to exceed more than $13 billion in 2018. While 3D printing has always held a lot of promise, one of the factors truly taking the concept to the next level is big data.

In much the same way that big data has benefited businesses of all types and sizes, it has proven to play a pivotal role in the growth of 3D printing. As more organizations get a firm grasp on how best to use both big data analytics and 3D printing capabilities, the two areas will form a more established and interdependent relationship.

As the number of uses for 3D printing grows, so too will its reliance on big data. Forgoing the more technical details, 3D printing is complex technology that now requires more data to perform its many capabilities. This can probably best be seen in the manufacturing sector where 3D printing already has a firm foothold. Big data plays a major role as a contributor to computer-aided design.

Whereas traditional manufacturing practices had one blueprint to work from, 3D printers allow manufacturers to create more customized products, with changes happening on the fly. Simply switch the program and a customized item can be created.

The major challenge from this change in strategy comes from storing the information for each customized product. 3D objects require a tremendous amount of data to print, and the more complex the item, the more data is needed. But even this challenge is one that can be overcome with 3D printing as organizations have the potential to print out their own electronics, including storage devices.

For the moment, it’s cheaper for businesses to simply purchase the device instead of creating it for themselves, but the cost of 3D printing continues to go down, especially in manufacturing. Since 3D printing is considered additive manufacturing, meaning it creates objects without material waste, we’ll eventually get to the point where the 3D printing of electronics will be the cheaper option.

Big data also has a role to play in the quality control aspect of 3D printing product creation. The act of 3D printing a lego block, for example, is relatively simply with a high degree margin of error, but what about items that are far more complex, like car engine parts. An error in the process could not only lead to a defective item but a health and safety hazard depending on the item and what it’s used for.

In the case of the most complex creations, an alignment error or a fraction of a millimeter can be dangerous. That doesn’t even include factors such as temperature, expansion, structural integrity, and more.

This is where big data has an important role to play. By analyzing each 3D printing process and essentially inspecting every element, big data analysis can find when these imperfections occur. This in turn can prevent future issues from cropping up. Creating high quality products with no errors will only instill more confidence in 3D printing as a whole.

Big data and 3D printing will also grow together as the Internet of Things (IoT) moves from concept to reality. One of the appeals of the IoT is the interconnectedness of devices, and that includes 3D printers. Items can be printed remotely; all that is needed is for the necessary data to be transferred to the desired printer. The ubiquitous connection allows for printing to happen nearly anywhere in the world, and with the right data available through options such as cloud Spark, the capabilities of 3D printing grow even more.

The exciting part about 3D printing is that some of its more amazing features likely haven’t even been thought of yet. Add in the advances made in big data analytics, and you have a world of potential at your fingertips. 3D printing is truly a new frontier that could spark revolutions of all types. Some are even calling it the second industrial revolution.

Only time will tell how much the world will change as 3D printing becomes more common.