In a time when we’re talking a lot about virtual reality it’s good to know that there is still the potential to turn dreams and concepts into actual reality. While the majority of us will never class ourselves as inventors, we’ve all had various (often crazy) ideas about an invention or product and wondered how difficult it would be to make them a reality.
With the help of innovative technological advancements some of these dreams are being put into production, even on a one-off basis, thanks to 3D printing. It’s always been said that the sky is the limit when it comes to innovation, and thanks to 3D printers it really is, with seemingly nothing impossible to produce.
The evolution of printers and printing
Printers have undoubtedly come a long way in the last decade and they’re now able to do far more than ever before while taking up just a fraction of the space in your home or office. Wireless printers make it possible to print out documents from anywhere in the home with an Internet connection, while multi-function printers have taken several devices and turned them into one all-singing all-dancing machine.
The manufacturing and design industries have been using methods similar to 3D printing for some time already, in the form of CAD (Computer Aided Design) and CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturer); but printing was restricted to huge machines that were fixed in place within workshops.
Some schools were lucky enough to have them for their Design & Technology classes, but you certainly couldn’t mount one on a desk or in a quiet part of your office like you can with today’s 3D printers, and you couldn’t really do much more than emboss or engrave materials like plastic, metal and wood.
In recent years various industries have all dipped their toes into the water regarding 3D printing with scientists, architects and marketing agencies to name just a few of the sectors who have printed a number of concepts with great success.
Examples of BT’s 3D printing prototypes
With this in mind, the team at BT have also had a go at printing some of the very best ideas from the innovations department with a number of the company’s top engineers all providing concepts and briefs that have been turned into reality when, as little as five years ago, they may have remained as nothing more than creative ideas or doodles on a sketch-pad.
Thanks to a brand new facility at Magna Park near Lutterworth in Leicestershire, the BT team, according to head of supply chain operations at BT Wholesale and Ventures David MacKenzie, can “harness the benefits of 3D printing across the company.”
Another member of the BT team, Matt Lawson, who is the applied innovation director, has been sold on the benefits of 3D printing for some time now with its ability to help create prototypes at low-cost; and his vision has been adopted across the wider brand having asked engineers to come up with designs for new equipment for Openreach.
The purpose-built tools that were designed could help the BT Openreach team to be more efficient without having to spend significant amounts of money on specialist tools. Examples of what has been created include a cable threading needle that will help engineers to connect cables without snags and a neck-worn safety holder enabling engineers to look at a screen without having to take their hands off the pole and tools while they’re working at height.
Another innovative concept was a vibrating ‘bullet’ which will help to deliver, install and maintain the BT fibre broadband offering by clearing any debris out of the ducts.
Alesha Richardson, an engineer at BT, was also involved in the early days of 3D printing in the business having conceptualised a solution to the ID card holder she was constantly breaking – an issue that many in other industries will have experienced.
Rather than having to keep going back to ask for a new one, Alesha used her interest in 3D printing to manufacture her own more practical holder from a homemade 3D printer; a move that has led to her becoming a vital part of the department where she is passing on her experience and expertise to others.
The future is bright for 3D printing and with the devices becoming less expensive and more accessible we can expect to see far more prototypes being produced and more creative dreams coming into fruition, so watch this space!
Keep your eyes peeled here at BT Shop for more of the very latest printers and printing technologies.