By YANJIE WANG
Capital News Service
LANSING — If you have a hearing disability, hundreds of hearing aids in the market that compete for your attention, but would you prefer one personalized for your ear?
A technology growing in popularity named 3D printing could help make that happen.
The technology of 3D printing — a computer program that lets machines make prototype models — has become part of the most advanced technology used in the manufacturing industry, said Chuck Hadden, president of Michigan Manufacturers Association.
With that technology, Hadden said that his members can prototype a product, bring it to clients, and remodify it after getting feedback from them.
Archie Swanner, rapid prototyping department advisor at Roush Enterprises Inc. in Farmington, said his department uses a 3D printer to create models for design verification for interiors of vehicles.
He said the technology could help the company design each part of vehicle interiors so designers could “take a look at them and see how each one could match up.”
Although the use of machines and materials for prototyping is expensive, Swanner said that it would not be costly to print only parts instead of the entire product.
“The schema is not as costly as you think if you look up the whole picture,” he said.
Jenna Franklin is marketing and event coordinator at EnvisionTEC, a German company with North American headquarters in Dearborn that makes 3D printers. She said some of the companies’ 3D printers are projectors with digital lighting processing technology, which can project light on materials to create a physical model of “whatever you design on the computer.”
She also said that the technology could help bring products to the market faster.
In the past, it usually “took a month to prototype a product, which replied on expensive and time-consuming tooling,” she said. “Now people could design on a computer, print it out and have a model in their hand right away.”
“You could check forms, fits, functions, change design and reprint the model quickly,” she said.
Jamie Milas, global marketing manager for biomedical engineering at Materialise, a Belgium-based corporation with North American headquarters in Plymouth, said the size of models that 3D printers could produce for her company varies, but they are 20 inches by 20 inches or less normally.
However, some concerns linger about the technology.
Milas said she heard that someone used a 3D printer to replicate an ATM machine, which made it possible to scan a person’s card and steal data.
But she said such misuse would be hard to realize, even though the technology makes people more creative.
“The technology requires high-quality equipment and is expensive,” Milas said. “You also need data to run the machine.”
Franklin agreed that similar situations would not be possible right away — such as using 3D printers to prototype weapons — because the technology is complicated to use.
“For people who want to make weapons, there are much easier way to do it,” she said. “It also costs money.”
But what Milas said worries her most is the possible violation of copyright law. With 3D printing technology, “people could replicate things, just like taking a file, making a copy of music or novel,” she said.
By YANJIE WANG