3d printing is dramatically changing the way we manufacture products. End-use parts production using 3d printing is already the fastest growing area in the manufacturing industry. Practical use cases for industrial 3d prints are about to reach a tipping point. As the cost of 3d prints continues to go down year-over-year, the technology will soon go on to revolutionize the economy.
A survey conducted by PWC in 2014 revealed that 11% of manufacturing companies had already switched to the use of 3d printing for volume production of their end-use products. A global survey conducted in 2019 shows that number has increased to 19% today and expected to grow to 49% by 2022. Costs of 3d prints are continuously dropping while quality is improving. With the addition of numerous new materials and hardware options available, 3d printing is on its way to disrupting the manufacturing industry.
Let us have a look at the 5 ways 3d printing is already in use today and disrupting industries…
Rapid prototyping is one of the mainstream use cases for 3d printing over traditional manufacturing processes. Previously, in order to test a prototype, engineers had to create a brand-new mold. The process would usually take months and cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, but with 3d printing, new prototypes and their multiple design iterations can be manufactured and tested within a week. Products are getting to market at unprecedented speeds all the while saving companies a significant amount of time and money.
One of the biggest wins for businesses relies on catching trends earlier and adapting to customer demands.
With 3d printing and its rapid prototyping capabilities, companies are able to truly test different design iterations and release products based on customer feedback. Rapid prototyping and agile product development is leading to another phenomenon: mass customization, which we will discuss later on in this article.
Volume 3D Print Production
When it comes to low volume production of plastic parts, 3d printing is now the most obvious solution. Using traditional manufacturing for low volume production is no longer feasible. Major costs associated with the process are the machinery, production lines, and specialized operators.
3d printing doesn’t require huge setup costs and turnarounds are extremely fast. Now you can manufacture complex parts in hours or days without requiring specialized operators. All these pros make 3d prints inevitably the most suitable choice for low volume production.
The cost of 3D printers themselves is starting to come down as more and more competitors enter the market. This makes the business case for parallel production much more economically viable. Parallel production and automation are ushering in a new era in additive manufacturing being used increasingly for continuous production applications. This means that adoption of high volume 3d printing will continue to grow over time.
To understand the mass customization of 3d prints and the potential impact, let’s take the the medical industry as an example. Previously, if a patient’s knee had to be replaced, the nurse would bring in four to five pre-built iterations of the knee. The doctor would have to choose the best suitable knee out of these generic options. Unfortunately, these knees were not very customized which meant that a perfect fit was seldomly ever achieved.
The knee of the patient can now be 3d scanned by a doctor and manufactured before ever going into surgery.
This has allowed for extremely customized replacements of bone, cartilage and other internal body parts. In this case, it is easy to see how the patients’ quality of life has dramatically increased over the traditional options they would have been presented with.
Manufacturing companies don’t only have to manufacture products. They also have to maintain a multi-year supply of spare parts of the same products to meet at least 10 years of supply. And due to this, most companies have a massive inventory that requires large warehouses and constant supervision. Inventories are very expensive to maintain due to numerous costs associated with them such as shrinkage, insurance, tracking, and distribution.
But why store parts when you can manufacture them on-demand? Why not store the parts virtually in a CAD file?
Long Tail Parts and 3d Prints
As mentioned earlier, companies usually keep inventories of spare parts for up to 10 years of supply. This means that an air conditioner would only have spare parts available for 10 years after its initial release date. But what if your customers are still happy with the overall performance of the air-conditioner? And just a small spare part could make their air-conditioner work fine again?
3d printing can easily solve the long tail part conundrum.
Companies can simply keep a virtual inventory of the products they manufacture. 3d prints can then be produced on-demand whenever required by their customers. This doesn’t only save inventory costs but also provides an agile solution for maintaining a catalog of long tail parts. Customers are more likely to buy your products in the future and overall life of products will significantly increase.
Keeping in view the afore-mentioned breakthroughs available with 3d printing, the technology is clearly on its way to disrupting the manufacturing industry. And it is very quickly becoming inevitable for manufacturers to partly or completely switch to 3d printing for different aspects of their production and supply chain. The sooner they switch, the more money they’ll end up saving.