Multi-Dimensional Future

3-D printing keeps growing by leaps and bounds in just about every industry

It’s like a science fiction novel come to life: Automakers are now 3-D printing entire vehicles. Scientists can 3-D print body parts—and not just prosthetic limbs, but human organs, like livers. You can even buy a desktop 3-D printer for your personal use for as little as a few hundred dollars.

What exactly is 3-D printing, anyway?

Also known as additive manufacturing, 3-D printing is the process of creating a solid object by printing it layer by layer. The object is first designed on a computer using 3-D modeling software or from data gathered from a 3-D scanner.1 Instead of the digital image being one solid piece, however, it’s  comprised of thousands of very thin layers. The printer heats up filament, such as plastic, so it becomes pliable and can be extruded through a nozzle. The printer then builds the image up from the bottom, printing each layer of filament on top of the previous one.2

Myriad uses

The uses for 3-D printing are countless and growing, revolutionizing every industry from automotive to healthcare. Here are some highlights:

Automotive: Several leading automakers and suppliers (Ford, Bugatti and BMW-owned Mini) have begun 3-D printing various parts in a vehicle, such as brake calipers and spoilers.3 In addition, one automaker is 3-D printing entire vehicles. A Chinese manufacturer, Polymaker, and Italian vehicle manufacturer, X Electrical Vehicle, teamed up to create the LSEV—an electric vehicle that is the world’s first 3-D printed car. The only parts of the vehicle that aren’t 3-D printed are the windows, tires and chassis.4

By 3-D printing the vehicle, the manufacturer reduced the number of plastic parts used in the LSEV to 57, compared to the 2,000 used in conventional manufacturing methods.5

The LSEV will be mass produced in 2019 and available to consumers for $10,000. It weighs less than 1,000 pounds, has a top speed of 43 mph and can go 93 miles on a single charge.6

Aerospace: NASA is 3-D printing engine parts to make its heavy-lift rockets more affordable. According to NASA, "The 3-D printed part tested, called the pogo accumulator, is a beachball-sized piece of hardware that acts as a shock absorber by regulating liquid oxygen movement in the engine to prevent the vibrations that can destabilize a rocket’s flight.

"By 3-D printing the pogo accumulator, more than 100 welds were eliminated, reducing costs by nearly 35% and production time by more than 80%. Initial reports show the 3-D printed hardware performed as expected, opening the door for more components scheduled for future tests."7

NASA also is allowing Relativity Space, a small rocket startup, to use the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to develop 3-D printed parts that will "simplify and reduce the cost of building rockets."8

Relativity Space’s CEO, Tim Ellis, said his organization is using the innovative manufacturing method to reduce the number of parts used to build a rocket, which in turn will create simpler, safer and cheaper rockets.9

Healthcare: Possibly one of the most noteworthy uses of 3-D printing is in the healthcare industry, where it’s being used to create everything from artificial limbs to biomedicines. With a 3-D bioprinter, medical professionals can recreate small organs and even blood vessels.10

San Diego-based Organovo, for example, uses cells from donor organs to create "bio-ink" that can be used to print small sections of organ tissue.11 Organovo sees using bioprinted tissue as an alternative to animal testing and human clinical trials.12

National U.K. funding agency Medical Research Council (MRC) also is experimenting with 3-D bioprinting organs. David Hay, a scientist funded by the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, is focused on creating 3-D printed liver tissue to treat chronic liver disease.

Although Hay and his team have only been able to keep their 3-D printed tissue alive for a year, he remains optimistic.

"The short to midterm goal would be looking at a ‘bridge’ to transplant. The long-term objective would be to create a liver implant that would provide liver support for longer," Hay said.13

One of the major benefits of using 3-D printed tissue is the patient’s body doesn’t identify the tissue as foreign, which is what often happens during traditional organ transplants. That means patients who receive 3-D printed organs that are printed from their own "bio-ink" don’t have to take immunosuppression drugs.

In the United States, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) in Winston-Salem, NC, has successfully printed ear, bone and muscle structures. According to WFIRM director Anthony Atala:

"This novel tissue and organ printer is an important advance in our quest to make replacement tissue for patients. It can fabricate stable, human-scale tissue of any shape. With further development, this technology could potentially be used to print living tissue and organ structures for surgical implantation."14

The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine hopes to use WFIRM and Atala’s regenerative medicine to heal injuries sustained by soldiers in battle. WFIRM graduate student Margaret vanSchaayk also is working on the project.

"Eventually, the idea is that a bioprinted muscle construct could work functionally and structurally for someone who has suffered a large-scale muscle defect in trauma," vanSchaayk said. "This is often seen in combat injuries. There aren’t great options now for regaining use and appearance of the muscle [soldiers] are missing. If there was a way to implant bioengineered muscle that could integrate with their body, they could gain structure and function without amputation."15

Just another fad?

Traditional manufacturing has been around for decades. Could 3-D printing truly revolutionize it? Is it a technology that will continue to advance, or is it just another fad?

The advantages of 3-D printing suggest it could have a long-lasting impact:

Reduced waste. In 3-D printing, the amount of waste material produced during production is greatly reduced. Traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection molding, require extra material to fill the molds, and perforated sheet metal assembly produces scrap material. While this material can be reused, it must first be recycled, which is an added financial and time cost for the organization.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an average of 21% of materials globally is waste product. In contrast, the wasted material in 3-D printing is about 10%. The process has virtually no waste or scrap because it uses only enough material to create the product.16

"Today, only 0.01% of all manufacturing output of finished products is 3-D printed (the majority being used for prototype production). If that adoption rate hits 20% of all manufacturing in the next 25 years, the amount of manufacturing waste could drop to 18%. If 3-D printing adoption hits 50% of all manufacturing, waste could drop to 13%—about 40% below today’s numbers," said PwC.17

Reduced cost. 3-D printing is increasing in popularity in the spare parts industry due to the ability to print parts on demand. This means organizations no longer need physical space to store and maintain an inventory of parts, which is especially useful for parts that aren’t often requested.

A survey by PwC’s global strategy consulting team of 38 German spare parts suppliers and buyers found that, "being able to transition from physically storing parts to making them on demand could result in shorter lead times, less logistics planning, lower shipping costs (by producing parts closer to where they are needed) and a significant decrease in storage costs. The savings could be considerable. An analysis estimates that suppliers could realize an average savings of 20% in total cost of ownership."18

Increased innovation. 3-D printing is much less restrictive than traditional manufacturing. If you can design it on a computer, you can 3-D print it. Because there are no machining or molding constraints—and the cost of failure is only as expensive as the material used—product designers and developers have freedom to try new things without worrying about cost.19

In the healthcare industry, 3-D printing allows scientists to do something traditional manufacturing can’t—recreate organs with living tissue. It also allows certain medical devices to be customized to individual patients. For example, 98% of the world’s hearing aids are now 3-D printed to fit each patient’s unique ear shape.20

Despite these benefits, 3-D printing is still a relatively new technology and has its limitations and drawbacks. Because it is an additive process, the surface of a 3-D printed object isn’t as smooth as something that has been molded, for example. 3-D printers also are limited in the materials they can print. The melting point of some metals, for example, is too high to work with a 3-D printer.21

According to Gartner research director Pete Basiliere, although 3-D printing improves some aspects of traditional manufacturing, it won’t ever replace it.

"Complete replacement will never happen because there are too many items that are made in such high volumes, without any changes from item to item, that traditional, highly efficient, long-run manufacturing technologies will always be more efficient and cost-effective than 3-D printing," said Basiliere. "On the other hand, 3-D printing revolutionizes certain industries, as well as short run and custom production in almost all industries."22

Here to stay

The 3-D printing industry is rapidly expanding, and it’s expected to grow to $12.8 billion in worldwide revenue this year and exceed $21 billion by 2020.23

Sculpteo’s "State of 3-D Printing—2017" report, for example, showed that 49% of organizations surveyed increased their 3-D printing expenses last year, and 72% expect to spend more again this year.24 The survey also found that as 3-D printing gains in popularity, organizations are expanding and developing new departments around the technology.

"3-D printing is getting more professional, [so it] needs specific departments, and specific experts: designers who can consider the specific 3-D printing constraints, engineers who study 3-D printing materials and how the printing process impacts an object’s properties, and operators who understand how to operate each 3-D printers," the survey said.25

Most organizations that have adopted 3-D printing currently use it for prototyping and proof of concept. But it’s clear that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what this technology can do. As more organizations adopt and experiment with it, its role in several industries will likely only increase. Who knows? Maybe in 30 years, we’ll all be driving 3-D printed cars.

—compiled by Lindsay Dal Porto, assistant editor


  1. "What Is 3-D Printing?" 3dprintind.com, https://tinyurl.com/kxtgpne.
  2. Andrew Walker, "3-D Printing for Dummies: How Do 3-D Printers Work?" Independent, June 21, 2013, https://tinyurl.com/pb9qc58.
  3. Hallie Detrick, "This $10,000 3-D-Printed Electric Car Will Be on the Market in 1 Year," Fortune, March 19, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yccw7zcq.
  4. "World's First 3D-Printed Car Due on Roads in 2019," CTV News, March 22, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y8nk3d8o.
  5. Ibid.
  6. "NASA Tests 3-D Printed Rocket Part to Reduce Future SLS Engine Costs," NASA, December 21, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7u4hc3q.
  7. Tim Fernholz, "NASA Is Handing a Free Rocket Test Facility to 17 People and a 3-D Printer," Quartz, March 21, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y8h2bukb.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Alexandro Pando, "How 3-D Printing Could Change the Health Industry," Forbes, January 17, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y9qjzmne.
  10. Hasan Chowdhury, "Liver Success Holds Promise of 3-D Organ Printing," Financial Times, March 4, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y7mr4nvh.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. "Scientists Prove Feasibility of ‘Printing’ Replacement Tissue," Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, https://tinyurl.com/yaq7gn6b.
  14. Katie Neal, "WFU Grad Student to Present 3-D Bioprinting Research Before Congress," Wake Forest News, April 2, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yas55hhh.
  15. "Five Ways 3-D Printing Is Changing Manufacturing," PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), April 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yc24ccyo.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. "Advantages of 3-D Printing Over Traditional Manufacturing," Manufacture3D, January 7, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y98zvc3z.
  20. "Five Ways 3-D Printing Is Changing Manufacturing," see reference 15.
  21. Felix Nadin, "When Is 3-D Printing the Best Solution for Production?" Sculpteo, May 25, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/yas2vjav.
  22. Matthew Timms, "3-D Printing Cannot Completely Replace Traditional Manufacturing, Say Experts," World Finance, July 16, 2014, https://tinyurl.com/y8d5ngke.
  23. "What Is 3-D Printing?" see reference 1.
  24. "The State of 3-D Printing—2017," Sculpteo, https://tinyurl.com/yct7o2st.
  25. Ibid.


Baldrige Funding Restored

Government funding for the Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program has been restored. Federal funding for the program was cut in 2012, but $2.2 million was earmarked in a spending bill signed in early April by President Donald Trump.

Since fiscal year 2012, salaries and expenses for the program’s employees and operations—more than $22 million in private funds—had been covered by the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

"Now, through our advocacy efforts over the past three years, we have restored the federal government’s commitment to our public-private partnership," said Al Faber, president and CEO of the foundation. "Working with members of Congress on the Senate and House, Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittees, we have built relationships and support where none previously existed. Many in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle, have shown their willingness to help."

For more information about the foundation’s efforts to restore funding, visit https://tinyurl.com/baldrige-funding.


Call for Volunteers

The ASQ Service Quality Division recently completed a project to enhance the Service Quality Body of Knowledge (SQBoK) to a new version. Now, the division is looking for three volunteers to proofread the draft of SQBoK Version 3.0. The volunteers will receive recertification units after completing their proofreading.

Preference will be given to those who:

  • Holds a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in English or communications, and who speaks English as a first language.
  • Have prior experience in proofreading or copy editing.
  • Are available during May through July to complete the activities.
  • Are a member of the ASQ Service Quality Division.

Those interested can send their professional profiles to SQBoK Chair Zubair Anwar at zubair-anwar@live.com by May 11.


2 Honorary Members Named

Two long-time ASQ members have been elected as ASQ honorary members:

  • Ronald D. Snee, founder and president of Snee Associates LLC, Newark, DE.
  • Geoff Vining, statistics professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.

The two were honored earlier this month at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Seattle.


Quality-related News From Around the World—powered by Lexis Nexis

"ISO 45001 Published." The world’s much-anticipated standard for occupational health and safety— ISO 45001:2018—Occupational health and safety management systems—Requirements with guidance for use—was published recently and is expected to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses. Read more at https://tinyurl.com/ycyfldcd.

"Auto Recalls Hit 4-Year Low, But Still Exceed Units Sold" Auto recalls fell to 30.7 million units in 2017, the fewest since 2013. By comparison, 17.6 million new vehicles were sold during 2017, which means the industry still recalled about 74% more vehicles than it delivered to customers. Read the full story: https://tinyurl.com/ycp2vafo.

For a weekly roundup of the most noteworthy stories, subscribe to the QNT Weekly e-newsletter at asq.org/newsletters.

Getting to Know…

William Meyer

Current position: Quality assurance specialist for the Defense Contract Management Agency, specializing in supporting NASA programs.

Education: An MBA from University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in quality systems management from the National Graduate School of Quality Management and a master’s degree in project management from Keller Graduate School of Management.

What was your introduction to quality? I originally worked as a machinist and moved into quality inspection in 1982, where I focused on geometric dimensioning and tolerance. This built the foundation for my career in quality.

Do you have a mentor who has made a difference in your career? I was working for an automotive casting company in Cedarburg, WI, as a senior quality engineer. The quality director, Harvey Purchis, introduced me to other aspects of quality, including reliability.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received? Stay relevant and always continue to learn because if you are not, you’re falling behind.

What teacher influenced you the most? When I attended community college, I struggled with math and had a difficult time with it. I had one semester with Mr. Bova and everything just seemed to click and fall into place. It was a breakthrough moment for me and built the foundation for my future learning.

Any previous jobs you consider noteworthy? I’ve held many positions, including inspector, quality engineer, supervisor, quality manager, engineering manager and quality director. The two jobs I’ve liked the best include my current role in which I’m supporting amazing projects, processes and interesting suppliers. I also enjoyed my previous role as an engineering manager in which I helped define processes and drive improvement. 

Are you active in ASQ? I’m very active on ASQ’s Certification Board and support it in various roles, including as a volunteer for most of the certifications as well as the certified quality improvement associate and certified quality process analyst certification chair. I was chair for the Ishikawa Award. At the section level, I’ve supported nearly all of the positions at one time or another.

What noteworthy activities or achievements outside of ASQ do you participate in? I’ve volunteered for Habitat for Humanity projects.

Any recent honors or awards? Inspector of the Year by ASQ’s Inspection Division.

What was the last movie you saw? "Black Panther."

Personal: Married 32 years. We have two adult sons.

What are your favorite ways to relax? Reading and watching movies.

What books are you currently reading? Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Later Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Quality quote:  Always do the right thing.


Latest Editions of ASQ Journals Released

Editors for two ASQ journals that were made available to all ASQ full, senior and fellow members earlier this year have released their journals’ latest issues. Among Quality Management Journal’s (QMJ) articles in its April edition is one about Six Sigma and lean in hospitals. Another article discusses quality in the fast food industry. You can access that journal by visiting http://asq.org/pub/qmj/index.html.

The Journal of Quality Technology’s (JQT) April edition includes several articles focused on reliability and maintenance modeling with big data. One addresses how modern technological developments, such as smart chips, sensors, digital imaging and wireless communications, have changed many data collection processes in reliability. Visit JQT at http://asq.org/pub/jqt/index.html.

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