By David Madden
There has been a lot of debate about the effects of emerging technologies like 3D printing on industrial manufacturing. There are industry experts that feel like it will be disruptive, while others believe that the technology isn’t viable. Industry projections point towards significant growth in the industry over the next five years, and consequently, the value of the industry is projected to experience a rapid rise in the future.
With the continuous growth in the 3D printing market and the drop in the cost of printers, new competitors in the traditional markets are expected to rise with an increase in innovative products. Prototypes for new products will also become less complicated and a lot less expensive to create.
However, product development and the market environment are just two potential effects of this emerging technology. 3D printing is very likely to affect the business model of manufacturers, especially when it comes to product pricing, the cost of materials and assembly line strategies. Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, taking early advantage of this technology can be very beneficial. So here are some of the ways 3D printing can be used in your manufacturing process.
3D printing has transitioned from prototyping into first-run production. This allows for product prototypes to be truly tested in the market and for product duplications to be made rapidly.
For example, a car company might have to create a brand new mold to test a prototype for a new engine. This process could take months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. With 3D printing, these molds can be printed for a small fraction of the cost and in a lot less time.
With the constraints of the old industrial process now lifted, engineers are able to explore many variations of their prototypes and rigorously test them while making improvements on their performance. The advances in 3D printing will result in the blurring of the lines between products and prototypes.
Startups and small businesses stand to gain the most from this emerging technology as they are able to introduce innovative products without incurring the heavy costs associated with storing inventory. Multiple versions of consumer goods and even industrial parts can be tested right away in the marketplace. This kind of A/B testing, which is very common in the world of software, can now be done with hardware and physical products.
For nearly 20 years, 3D printing has been used to create exact replicas of new product designs. This process was referred to as rapid prototyping. However, unlike its name, the process hasn’t been rapid. 3D printing service providers can take well over a week to deliver a single prototype.
However, recent breakthroughs in automation, along with the success of global distribution companies, have completely changed the industry of prototyping. Products that would require over a month to go through several design cycles in the prototyping phase can now do the same in as little as a week. Consequently, products are reaching the market a lot quicker, with companies saving a significant amount of time and money.
In mass customization, large quantities of an item are produced. However, each item can be customized.
An interesting application of this concept is in the medical field. Today, if a patient needs to have a knee replacement, their knees can be scanned, and a perfect replica is printed and ready for the patient ahead of the surgical procedure. In the past, however, if a patient needed to have a knee replacement procedure, a nurse would have to bring a box into the operating room, and the doctor would determine which of the possible knee designs was most similar to your knee.
In the dental industry, Invisalign has also been very successful with using 3D printing to customize the teeth alignment devices that they produce. As a business owner, customization could be a great feature to add to your products, and that is entirely possible with the 3D printing technology available today.
It’s not uncommon for manufacturing companies to manufacture several months or even several years of spare parts to meet the consumer demands for years to come. However, storing that much inventory can be very costly. These costs include the large capital required to produce the inventory, tracking, insurance, warehousing and lost or missing parts.
Why store that much inventory at such high costs? Especially if you are small to mid-sized business, why not just print those parts on demand?
With 3D printing production, you can create the parts you need whenever and wherever you need them. This can significantly improve the efficiency of your storage systems and save your company the high costs associated with having a large inventory.
To effectively implement 3D printing in your manufacturing process, it’s also important to assess your physical work environment. For example, in an office environment, PolyJet and Fused Deposition Modeling(FDM) systems are more suitable and safe. With a larger warehouse facility, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) or Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) would be much more suitable, especially considering maintenance and operations.
Author Bio: David Madden is an efficiency expert, as well as being the Founder and President of Container Exchanger and ExchangerHub. His passion is to save businesses money and make North American manufacturing and distribution companies more competitive in the global market. He holds a degree in Industrial Engineering and has a Masters in Business Administration, as well as a certificate from Daimler Chrysler Quality Institute for completion of six-sigma black belt training.