This three-part series starts from a basic insight: through advances in digital manufacturing, raw materials are fast becoming intelligent assets. Thought of another way, material flows are becoming information flows. Here we will explore the implications for the circular economy. In part one we investigated the technological advances that are encoding intelligence into materials. Part two explored the trends in storing, communicating, and using materials data. In part three we explore the impact on supply chains and business ecosystems that result, and discuss the business models that stand to benefit from emerging trends.
If materials are becoming intelligent assets in digital fabrication, we must understand how businesses are creating value from this. After exploring the growth in production and access to data on materials in a previous article, now it’s time to look at how new, platform-type business models are mediating the production of goods, and the implications this may have for circular economy aims.
Digital fabrication processes like 3D printing are ‘software-defined’, meaning the production process is driven by digital data.1 Compared to the hard-wired capital costs of setting up an assembly line optimised to produce thousands of the same object, a 3D printer can be reprogrammed at a keystroke to produce a different object with near zero costs. Unlike mass manufacturing, the set up costs of digital fabrication are comparatively low and the process inexpensive to alter. Because of this flexibility, digital fabrication enables a greater variety of products to be made per unit of capital investment.
Whizzing across a blue-lit platform with a whirr and a squeak, liquid plastic pours from its chrome tip. The 3D printer seems a far cry from the muddy fields surrounding Yangon.
But in an industrial park south of the city 3D printing technology is now being used to design bespoke parts that are changing the lives of struggling farmers, who often rely on making their own tools or adapting imports in place of agriculture machinery.
But poor equipment is only one challenge amid natural disasters and razor-thin profit-margins for Myanmar’s farmers. Agriculture accounts for nearly half of Myanmar’s economic output, but it is among the smallest export markets in Asia.
But change is afoot at social enterprise Proximity Designs, where 3D printers are being used to design specially adapted farming tools, in consultation with the farmers who will use them.
3-D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing,” has captured increasing mainstream interest, with new breakthroughs and applications being announced all the time. While it is revolutionizing the way certain products are manufactured, 3-D printing is poised to substantively benefit the production of medical devices and the healthcare supply chain overall.
In its 2016 trend report, logistics company DHL says 3-D printing can significantly lower complexity in manufacturing and holds numerous advantages over conventional production techniques.
Specific to healthcare, 3-D printing has been used in a variety of meaningful applications, such as in the production of prosthetic implants and limbs, as well as prosthetic dentistry. As healthcare strives to emphasize the individualization of care, Gartner estimates that by 2019, 3-D printing will be considered a critical tool in healthcare, being used in more than 35 percent of all surgical procedures requiring prosthetic and implant devices within and around the body. By then, Gartner also estimates that 10 percent of people in the developed world will be living with a 3-D-printed item on or in their body.
The aviation trade is facing a dilemma as passenger demand for flights goes through the roof while customers increasingly demand more for less from airlines.
In 2016 alone there are expected to be more than 3.7 billion people boarding flights around the world. As a result, Boeing has predicted that accommodating the huge increase in passengers and cargo will require 38,050 new airplanes in the next 20 years, at the cost of $5.6 trillion.
3-D printing (3DP) is the process of making physical objects from a digital model using a printer. Although still in the developmental stages, the technology has advanced swiftly since its introduction in the 1980s, and is already presenting opportunities in new areas, such as in the custom manufacture of prosthetics, dental products and other medical devices or high strength lightweight precision automotive and aerospace parts that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
A 3-D printed model of Barrick Gold’s Turquoise Ridge mine in Nevada, US. Photo Barrick Gold Corp
Over the next decade, technology observers predict that the pace of change will intensify and more and more applications will be found as sophistication increases and the cost of equipment falls, following the now well-established curve for technology products.
With all of its accomplishments – including world’s largest defense contractor, and a presence in all 50 states and 70 countries – you might think Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) would already have mastered additive manufacturing.
But like manufacturers around the world, some of Lockheed’s experts are struggling to answer questions posed by 3D printing, according to Robert Ghobrial, additive manufacturing lead for the company’s training and simulation location in Orlando, FL.
“Should we invest in the technology today or wait until it’s faster and cheaper?” Ghobrial has asked himself. “Should we have a centralized or localized printing model?”
Ghobrial spoke at SME’s “Additive Manufacturing Applications: Innovations for Growth” seminar in October, at advanced energy technology accelerator NextEnergy, in Detroit.
He traced his work with 3D printing back to 2012, when his team received some MakerBot printers that largely went unused. Even as recently as 2014, he was mostly making trinkets from the Thingiverse digital design company, Ghobrial said.
It’s been a big week for shoes and 3D printing, as just yesterday New Balance released their (extremely) limited edition MS066 sneakers with 3D printed midsoles, and now Adidas has announced their innovative UltraBoost Uncaged Parley sneakers, made almost entirely from recycled ocean plastic and which owe much of their development to 3D printing technologies.
Just a year ago, Adidas teamed up with Parley, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about ocean pollution and plastic waste, to design a shoe that could be made from recycled ocean plastic. The result of that experiment was an impressive footwear specimen, which combined recycled plastic materials and Adidas’ 3D printed Futurecraft midsole. While the shoes marked a step forwards for sustainable footwear, they were not exactly retail ready, and were more significant as a concept shoe.
Now, however, Adidas and Parley have moved forwards once more with the unveiling of their UltraBoost Uncaged Parley sneakers, which go on sale next month and will be retailing for $200 a pair. Initially, Adidas will be releasing 7,000 pairs of the new recycled sneaker, but reportedly hope to have over a million pairs available within the next year or so.
From parts for fighter jets, to prosthetic arms and legs, and concept cars, 3D Printing is being used to manufacture a huge variety of items. And with its use on the rise, it’s putting pressure on organisations to reassess their manufacturing and supply chains.
The latest industry to come into the sights of the 3D Printing revolution is one that might surprise you – fashion. It’s not strictly a new phenomenon (it’s been over a year since these items first appeared), but it’s worth noting for a couple of important reasons.
Firstly, unlike in other industries, the well-known clothing manufacturers are at the forefront of the efforts. Secondly, the consideration of what this might mean for the fashion industry in terms of manufacturing and intellectual property.
My colleague Sal Spada wrote an article on new developments in the additive manufacturing space. Additive manufacturing, also called 3D printing, involves joining materials to make objects from a 3D model, usually layer upon layer. In contrast, much traditional manufacturing has been subtractive; Lathes, saws, and boring tools cut materials down to make a product.
There has been some breathless coverage of 3D Printing’s impact on the supply chain. In the supply chain realm is has been speculated that additive manufacturing could be able to transform the spare parts supply chain. The idea is that instead of carrying a plethora of slow moving parts across a network of warehouses, these warehouses could just manufacture the parts as needed.
The concept of disruption and its applicability has been widely discussed over the past year. Digital technologies such as 3D print and additive manufacturing have been labelled game changers and potential disruptors, also for the maritime industry. The technologies are not widely applied in maritime yet, but more and more companies are looking into the potential changes and development opportunities of the technologies, both in terms of manufacturing, but indeed also in terms of new business models.
On 26 October Swedish Maritime Technology Forum (SMTF) and Green Ship of the Future (GSF) have invited MAN Diesel & Turbo, GKN Aerospace, Hoedtke, Alfa Laval and OSK Shiptech to discuss the potential for added value if applying 3D print and/or AM in maritime.
Over the past 6 months, GSF and 20+ maritime companies have deep-dived into the opportunity space for 3D printing in maritime, guided and inspired by 3D print and disruption experts such as DareDisrupt, but also main industry players such as General Electric, Siemens, Airbus AP works etc.
This event marks the conclusion of the project, but also the start of a new process where focus will be on practical appliance of 3D print in maritime companies and further investigation of new business.