The influence of 3D printing is everywhere: a coffee cup, stapler, pen, cell phone, computer monitor. Design engineers, doctors, researchers and a host of other professionals use the technology that sometimes can even save lives.
An Eden Prairie-based company, called Stratasys, is the second oldest company in 3D printing, said Joe Hiemenz, public relations manager for Stratasys. It is a business to business company that had its start in Eden Prairie in 1989. Stratasys specializes in manufacturing 3D printers.
Customers can be companies designing a new product or testing out a new design, Hiemenz noted.
“There is not a single industry for 3D printing,” he said. “There’s probably very few manufacturers who aren’t using this in some way or another.”
Surgeons, for example, can use the technology to model the part of the body on which they will operate. Hiemenz said one time surgeons operating on conjoined twins used 3D printing to help them plan the operation ahead of time.
Engineers have for many years used computer-aided-design (CAD) programs to help them design products. With the introduction of 3D printers, engineers could send their designs from a CAD to the printer, giving them prototypes of products as common as a stapler or as high tech as an aircraft engine. The engineers can then use the model to see where they need to make changes in their designs. This process can be repeated multiple times and allows companies to perfect a product before manufacturing it on a large scale.
Unlike some companies, Stratasys uses industrial thermoplastics, which is the same type of plastics uses in many products, Hiemenz explained.
“We use the two most widely used materials,” Hiemenz said.
The materials are ABS and polycarbonate (PC) thermoplastics, which Hiemenz explained can be found in a computer mouse, monitor, cell phone and many other products. Modeling new designs and products with the same or nearly the same material of the end product can be beneficial.
Toy manufacturers commonly use 3D printers, Hiemenz said. Medical devices, automotive parts, aircraft parts, and even shoes are other products that are modeled using a 3D printer.