Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has been around for nearly four decades, but only in recent years has it gained mainstream acceptance and usage. Today, many major brands across various industries utilize 3D printing to create products in more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly ways.
Here are ten examples of brands that are using additive manufacturing in their operations:
Product engineers at Adidas have been experimenting with additive manufacturing for nearly two decades, having used the tech to make prototypes of shoes.
In 2014, Adidas became one of the first brands to mainstream the use of 3D-printed products, when the company’s first sneaker prototype featuring a 3D-printed midsole was unveiled.
Three years later, the sportswear giant teamed up with 3D-printing company, Carbon, and the duo later released Adidas’ first-ever mass-market 3D-printed shoe, the “Futurecraft 4D” running sneaker, featuring a 3D-printed midsole.
In Sept. 2022, Boeing announced the opening of its new 3D-printing facility in Auburn, WA. The 4.1 million sq ft facility houses one of the world’s largest 3D printers, used to create parts and prototypes for aircrafts that cannot be made using traditional manufacturing methods.
According to Boeing’s website, more than 70,000 3D-printed parts have been used in production to date. Boeing has also launched its own 3D-printing training courses, including an online certification course now taught by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
GE has spent the last decade establishing itself in the additive manufacturing industry, supplying printers, materials and engineering and consulting services to others – and even printing its own parts, too.
The conglomerate has been using 3D printing to create parts for its turbines and other machinery for several years, and in June 2017, the company announced it was developing the world’s largest laser 3D printer for metal printing.
Like its competitor Adidas, Nike has leveraged the use of additive manufacturing to curate prototypes for its shoes, as well.
The brand incorporated 3D printing into its production process in 2013, when it released the Nike “Vapor Razor Talon,” the “first ever football cleat built using 3D printed technology.”
Since then, Nike has released other 3D-printed shoes, including the Nike FlyPrint and the Zoom VaporFly Elite Flyprint 3D. It has also used the technology to create custom-fit insoles for its shoes.
Procter & Gamble:
Proctor and Gamble – one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies – has been using 3D printing to create prototypes for its products, such as toothbrushes and razors.
In March 2021, the consumer goods giant teamed up with the National University of Singapore and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore to create customized 3D-printed pills that can be tailored to a specific dosage, timed release and duration, and even combine multiple types of medications.
As one of Europe’s – and arguably the world’s – largest manufacturing companies, it’s no surprise that Siemens claimed a stake in the additive manufacturing industry.
The conglomerate acquired its first 3D printing company in 2016, following an investment in 3D-printed parts maker, Materials Solutions, and has used 3D printing to create prototypes and spare parts for its products and customers.
In 2017, Siemens launched its own software dedicated to 3D printing, educating engineers and manufacturers in additive manufacturing design, fabrication and production.
SpaceX is no stranger to additive manufacturing, having used 3D printing to create rocket engine parts for several years.
In 2013, SpaceX unveiled its 3D-printed rocket thruster engine, SuperDraco, for its Dragon Spacecraft, and in 2019, it was announced that it had used 3D printing to create the largest rocket engine part ever produced.
Aside from printing rocket parts, the space exploration company has also used 3D printing to construct an extension of its South Padre Island facility in Texas, first reported on by 3D printing blogger, Jarret Gross.
United Parcel Service (UPS):
UPS became the first major retailer to offer 3D printing services in-store for customers. In 2013, the company partnered with printing company, Stratasys, to install polymer printers in six UPS stores across the U.S.
Customers can bring their own CAD files to any participating UPS store and have their designs printed on-site in just a matter of hours.
In an effort to keep up with its competitors, Under Armour announced its first-ever 3D-printed sneaker, the UA architect, which featured a 3D-printed midsole.
German automaker Volkswagen has been using 3D printing to create prototypes and spare car parts for customers for nearly 25 years, and in 2021, the car company announced its ambitious plan to 3D-print 100,000 parts per year by 2025.
For the last 25 years, Volkswagen claims to have printed over 1 million parts, including center consoles, door claddings, instrument panels, bumpers, intake manifolds, radiators, brackets and support element, according to the company’s website.
These are only a handful of examples of major brands utilizing 3D printing technology in their operations to create new and innovative products – from aerospace parts, machinery, footwears, to packaging, automotive spare parts and cargo planes replacement parts.
With the cost and materials technology continuing to improve, the possibilities of using 3D printing in manufacturing and logistics is definitely endless.