How 3D Printing & IoT together disrupting the industry

Integrating the 3D Printing technology with Internet of Things is completely changing how smart products are developed


An introduction to IoT

The Internet of Things is the concept to connect objects between themselves to share data. The shared information can come from human behavior or external factors. This is made possible by connecting our objects using electronic parts, sensors, software, and internet, or specific networks created for IoT. Thus, data can be exchanged between objects, without human action.


A typical example of IoT is a connected fridge, with captors that detect that you finished some of your basic aliments (eggs, milk, etc.) and automatically order them for you right away. This technology is used by a wide range of professional sectors, from consumer goods to defense.


This technology attracted a lot of attention over the past few years, and its use is clearly booming. In 5 years from now, the IoT is expected to count 26 billion devices.


Combining 3D printing and IoT

Disruptive technologies can be even more useful when they’re combined together. Indeed, that’s what the history clearly showed. For instance, when the PC was created, it was disruptive, but it became a true revolution when it got combined with other technologies such as the Internet.


When it comes to IoT, how can it be combined with 3D printing to create the best use cases? Here are 4 ways to use these two technologies together in a smart way.


Creating the best enclosures for IoT objects thanks to 3D printing

First, let’s start with the most obvious use you can make of 3D printing for IoT projects: using additive manufacturing for enclosures. Indeed, IoT objects are electronic devices, thus, they need an enclosure. Good news: 3D printing is a great technology for this use. It allows the creation of enclosures that perfectly fit the product.
Additive manufacturing is particularly useful during the prototyping process of electronic devices. Since the components might change regularly during this step, it will impact the shape and size of the enclosure. If you’re working with injection molding, you can’t adapt easily to these modifications. But thanks to 3D printing, you can do it in a heartbeat, with no additional costs.


Another major benefit of 3D printing for enclosures is that you can insert specific design features such as snap fits inside your 3D models that will reduce drastically assembly time during your production process. To learn more about it, you can read our blog post about 3D printed joints and snap fits.


Do you want to give it a try? Discover our design tips to create the best 3D printed enclosures.


Shaping the Industry 4.0 with the combination of these technologies in factories

To build a factory that is truly part of the Industry 4.0 trend, it is essential to combine several disruptive technologies. That’s how you can create a truly agile factory, with optimized performance.


That’s precisely what Audi, the automotive company, is doing with its smart factory, for instance. Indeed, they have a project to create factories that combine all existing disruptive technologies to build a more efficient production process: IoT, additive manufacturing, robots, drones, etc.


A good way to use both IoT and 3D printing in a factory is to automate some actions thanks to the data collected with IoT objects. You can, for instance, put some captors in your machines and automatically order or produce 3D printed spare parts when something breaks. It saves a lot of time and truly increases efficiency.


Creating custom-made products thanks to the data collected with IoT

With IoT devices, you collect some data. This information can be truly useful to build the best products. If you combine this with 3D printing, the potential is impressive. Indeed, you can collect data with IoT devices, and then use it to create custom-made products, which are easy to manufacture at a low cost with 3D printing.


For instance, you can create custom-made 3D printed running shoes, based on the data collected during a running test made with connected running shoes. They can learn how your feet behave during a running session and create the perfect shoe according to this.


You can do the same thing with other objects, such as a tennis racket. You can collect data on how the player behaves during a test session with a connected racket, and then create a custom-made object to boost performance. 3D printing is a true asset when it comes to building custom-made products, and it perfectly matches the potential IoT has to offer.


3D printing IoT devices without electronics

For that one, we’re getting started. But this new application of 3D printing for IoT devices will become key over the next few years. Indeed, it is starting to be possible to 3D print electronic components, such as circuit boards, with conductive ink.


There are several benefits we can get from this innovation. First, it can speed up the process of manufacturing electronic components. But most of all, it totally removes the existing constraint of having 2D circuit boards, which currently implies a lot of limits when it comes to the shape of the connected object. Thus, 3D printed circuit boards will be able to have different shapes, and it will give the opportunity to build better products.


Another important benefit from 3D printed circuit boards is that it allows the creation of objects that are truly optimized in terms of weight. For sectors such as health care, aeronautics, or military, which are active users of IoT devices, that’s a key factor.


Moreover, it is said that in 10 years from now, the current silicon circuits that are being used at the moment will be replaced by plastic ones. This type of material is already the most used in additive manufacturing, with a wide range of options.


Also, plastic circuit boards will be much cheaper than silicon ones. Today, an electron beam lithography equipment which is used to manufacture semiconductors costs from 1.5 million dollars to 30 million dollars. A system which can 3D print electronics usually goes up to 500 000 dollars, which makes a true difference in terms of cost.


As a result, it will be quite easy to use lightweight 3D printed plastic circuit boards to create optimized IoT devices, at a lower cost. When will it start to be implemented? According to Dean Freeman, Gartner’s vice president of research on semiconductor manufacturing and process development, we’re at least five years away.

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