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3D printing is enormously exciting in its own right. Innovative companies are unlocking its potential in many different ways.

One area that we’re especially interested in, when it comes to 3D printing, is its applications in research and development. Many inventive companies, such as Sports Labs, have bought 3D printers specifically for the purposes of rapid prototyping.

In contemporary research and development, then, 3D printing is already an important tool. The rapid prototyping capabilities of a 3D printer are something to behold, and in the hands of a skilled engineer the transition from concept to prototype to minimum viable product can look a lot like magic.

What about the future though? The very cutting-edge of research and development?

We’ll take a look at 3D printing’s current R&D capabilities, its limitations, its capabilities beyond R&D, and how we expect 3D printing technology to fit in with the future of research and development.

Amazing 3D printing companies

There are already some incredible companies out there making inspiring things. Here are some of the 3D printing companies making the biggest splashes in the mainstream press.

Prosthetic limb, bionic arm research and development

Limbitless Solutions

This company got Hollywood A-lister Robert Downey Junior on board, delivering a 3D-printed bionic arm to 7-year-old Alex. The story is heart-warming, and demonstrates the life-changing potential of technology that can easily adapt to different people.

Bionic arms already exist, of course. But the cost is prohibitive, especially for children, when you consider the need to create different arms as they grow up. 3D printing has the potential to drastically bring down the price. This will make bionic limbs accessible to entire audiences that otherwise just couldn’t justify the expense. You can check out more in bionic arms here.

3D printing innovation: Makies Doll Factory

If you still remember being a kid, you probably remember wishing you could just make your own toys at some point. That’s a powerful thing to tap into, and it looks like Makies have a good run at capturing kid’s imaginations with their customisable dolls!

3D printing and Left Field Labs

Literally making music, Left Field Labs used 3D printing in the creation of their music box. They allow users of their website to create their own custom music box cylinders, effectively printing music from plastic.

plastic 3d printer

3D printing company: 3D Systems

We’ve talked about research and development in the food industry before. The ChefJet printer could have a big impact here.

Ideal for printing complex chocolate-y confections, it’s a cool way to experiment quickly and easily with different structures, ingredients and flavour combinations.

Reaching the limits of 3D printing

The outer commercial limits of 3D printing are already well-colonised by early adopters and quick thinkers. One area where commercial 3D printing ventures are particularly strong is medical technology. Here, the high adaptability and flexibility of 3D printed devices perfectly fits the demand for very individual solutions. It is this theme of cheap, large-scale but bespoke product design that has dominated early commercial 3D printing, and forms the backbone of the 3D printing surge.

3d printing medical prototypes

This allows for a lot of rapid research by dedicated 3D printing companies during the process of making individual products. They have accomplished a vast amount already. But where does 3D printing fit in with a less specialised, less 3D-printing focused research and development process?

Making it real with 3D printing technology

Even industries that haven’t considered 3D printing to aid R&D, can benefit from 3D printing technology today.

The ability to make and interact with 3D models quickly and easily in the real world affords 3D printing a special place in any existing manufacturing process. This is as a research and prototyping tool. But equally it has an important role in research and development alongside new and developing technologies.

The idealised ‘futuristic’ prototyping workflow might look something like this:

  • Create a 3D model of the final product using traditional computer aided design (CAD).
  • Examine the 3D model with the use of augmented and virtual reality devices to find and fix obvious flaws.
  • Create a rough, incomplete prototype using 3D printing to find potential engineering issues that are harder to detect using a computer-generated model.
  • Create rough prototypes of smaller working parts of the complete final product, and of modular modifications. Gain a rough picture of how the final product might be put together, and what challenges a chosen route might present.
  • Engage in traditional R&D and engineering work to create a finished minimum viable product.

Of course, in reality, stages will occur out-of-order, and tools and concepts from different stages will overlap or be left out completely. However, this gives a rough idea of how 3D printing could fit in with an established manufacturing business’ research and development process.

Already using 3D printing? Or a different prototyping technique?

If you’re prototyping products in any way (especially using 3D printing technology), that’s a good indicator that you’re carrying out work that counts as research and development according to HMRC.

electrical prototype board

If you’re carrying out work that includes qualifying research and development expenditure, then you should be claiming R&D tax credits. These help you lower your corporation tax liability or even receive a cash payment.

ForrestBrown have one of the largest teams of chartered tax advisers specialising in R&D tax credits in the UK.

We take the time to visit your business and understand your processes to maximise the value you can receive from their R&D tax credits. Get in touch for a chat and we’ll see if we’re a good fit with your business.


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