Hardware

3D printing: 10 companies using it in ground-breaking ways

A growing number of innovative companies are experimenting with 3D printers, propelling the technology closer to the mainstream market.

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GE used MakerBot and 3D Systems printers to print custom gifts.
Image: GE
From the big whig corporations down to the smallest startups, there are plenty of companies utilizing 3D printers to create new products, improve old ones, and better their business processes. As the technology becomes more accepted in the enterprise, it will quickly become more mainstream.

We've compiled a list of 10 companies innovatively using 3D printers.

1. General Electric

General Electric made big investments in 3D printing in their quest to produce more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for the new Leap jet engines. The printers can make the nozzles in one metal piece and the finished product is stronger and lighter than the ones made in the traditional assembly line. However, the 3D printers currently on the market can't produce the nozzles fast enough. GE's business development leader, Greg Morris, joined the company last year when it acquired his 3D company, Morris Technologies, so the company wants to expand its 3D printing staff as well as the production of the nozzles and other equipment using 3D printers. They already have more than 300 3D printers and GE Aviation wants to produce 100,000 additive parts by 2020.

2. Boeing

The airline company was one of the early adopters of 3D printing technology, and has made more than 20,000 3D printed parts for 10 different military and commercial planes. The 787 Dreamliner has 30 3D printed parts, including air ducts and hinges, which is a record for the industry. Using Stratasys 3D printers, the company also printed an entire cabin. The company also supports additive manufacturing programs at the University of Sheffield and University of Nottingham in the UK, where there is research for aerospace and other manufacturing sectors using 3D printing technology.

3. Ford

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Ford made engine covers for the 2015 Ford Mustang with 3D printers.
Image: Ford

The auto company has been using 3D printing technology since the 1980s and recently printed its 500,000th part with a 3D printer, which was an engine cover for the new Ford Mustang. According to Ford's website, traditional methods would take four months and $500,000, but with 3D printing, the same process takes four days and $3,000.

Ford also teamed with 3D Systems Sugar Lab around Valentine's Day this year to 3D print an edible 2015 Mustang model, made from chocolate and sugar. The company plans to work with 3D printers in the near future, using sand printing and direct metal printing.

4. Nike

Nike reported 13% growth for its latest quarter. CEO Mark Parker has previously stated that 3D printing technology has been a big boost for the company recently. Nike made 3D printed cleats for the 2014 Super Bowl. The Nike Vapor Laser Talon has a 3D printed plate and cleats made from selective laser sintering technology, and the Vapor Carbon Elite also has parts produced with a 3D printer. The Nike Vapor Laser Talon, which weighs 5.6 ounces, was designed for football players running the 40 yard dash on football turf. The company indicated that it has plans to extend its use of 3D printing in future products, but hasn't revealed details.

5. American Pearl

Can't decide on an engagement ring? With American Pearl jewelry company, customers can create a unique piece of jewelry by choosing specific metals, gems, or diamonds, ordering them online, and then 3D printing them. There are eight metal options to choose from, such as platinum or rose gold, as well as an array of diamonds and other gems like sapphires and emeralds. Then, American Pearl's CAD software makes a digital file of the custom jewelry, which is turned into a 3D printed thermoplastic wax mold via a Solidscape T-76 3D Printer. The metal is poured into the mold, the gems are added, and the piece ships within a few days. However, the service is quite expensive — the company is making jewelry that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

6. DIY Rockets

Last year, DIY Rockets, a global space company that was created to lower the cost of space exploration using crowdsourcing, launched a competition for people to develop 3D printed rocket motors using Sunglass cloud-based design platform. The only rules were that the designs had to be open source and the participants had to present a business case. The winner for the best rocket engine, announced in July, was Team Stratodyne, which won a $5,000 prize. The design will be created with the help of Shapeways,, the world's biggest 3D printing marketplace.

7. Hasbro

Hasbro recently announced a partnership with 3D Systems, the company that first commercialized 3D printing, to develop and commercialize 3D printers later this year for children's toys and games. Hasbro has a range of children's franchises that may be featured for 3D printing, including My Little Pony, Playskool, and Sesame Street.

"We believe 3D printing offers endless potential to bring incredible new play experiences for kids, and we're excited to work with 3D Systems, a recognized industry leader in this space," Hasbro President and CEO Brian Goldner said in the press release about the announcement in February.

8. Hershey's

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Hershey's has partnered with 3D Systems to make a special 3D printer for making chocolate.
Image: Technabob.com
3D Systems has also partnered with Hershey's to make a 3D printer for chocolate and other edible products. The 3D printing company said this partnership is a good way to show how the technology can be mainstream, though there is no word when the chocolate-making machine may be available. The ability to 3D print food is nothing new, as 3D systems has shown with its Sugar Lab, where the company prints icing and other sugary confections.

9. MakieLab

Design your own Makie doll with MakieLab, which 3D prints 10 inch flexible fashion dolls from thermoplastic. Customers can choose all of the features of the doll: face, eyes, jaw, smile, hair, and more. They are made in the London headquarters and shipped around the world. The company markets the product as environmentally friendly not only because of its custom printing that produces less waste, but also because the packaging is made from recyclable materials. MakieLab prints other games and toys, though the doll is still its most popular product.

10. Matter.io

A team of MIT and Cornell engineers created Matter.io, a company that is attempting to capitalize on the vast world of 3D printing designs on the web by making it easier to make, download, and share designs. The idea came from the founders' realization that CAD files, which are used with every 3D printer, are made for engineers to understand, rather than the average person. The Matter founders wanted to change that by making it easy to embed the files into websites so users can download and customize the designs before sending them off to Shapewayss to print or print them at home. The bottom line? Matter wants to make 3D printers easier to use so they will be more quickly accepted by the average consumer.

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About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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