The 3D printing industry has had a rough go of it, of late. In a few short years, it’s gone from technology darling to victim of its own industry hype, a move that has had serious implications for some of the industry’s biggest players.
But as the consumer-facing wing of the space has seemingly hit the skids, another aspect of the technology is gaining serious momentum. Late last month, industry giant Stratasys announced a pair of new technologies and manufacturing partnerships with Boeing and Ford. Three months prior, HP showed off a pair of washing machine-sized devices aimed at taking on more established industrial 3D printing companies.
Last week, GE dropped $1.4 billion to acquire European 3D printing firms SLM Solutions Group and Arcam, nearly matching the amount of money it’s pumped into the technology over the past half-dozen years.
As 3D printing continues to make inroads from product design right through to the manufacturing floor, Dr Phil Reeves offers an insight into where the technology is making the biggest impact in the next industrial revolution.
3D printing – or additive manufacturing – has evolved to a manufacturing process that continues to allow a plethora of companies in an increasing array of sectors to enjoy new manufacturing efficiencies; including on-demand production benefits and significant time-to-market reductions.
As recent analyst reports suggest, additive manufacturing is now established as a highly-regarded technology, with McKinsey & Company stating that the industry could be worth around US$100-$200bn.
Thanks to numerous fantastic test results, you could start think that metal 3D printing has become the most normal thing in the world. Just earlier this month, NavAir successfully tested a MV-22B Osprey fitted with a partially 3D printed engine nacelle, and plenty of similar stories are appearing regularly. You might even be wondering why it took so long. After a decade of innovation, surely we should have progressed passed single 3D printed components? In reality, however, aerospace metal 3D printing has been stuck in a kind of limbo– as nothing more than an interesting new technology that needs more study.
This is perfectly illustrated by the pioneering efforts of Honeywell Aerospace, a global provider of integrated avionics, engines, systems and service solutions for various partners from the aerospace, aviation and defense industries. They were one of the first to begin experimenting with metal 3D printing way back in 2010, but they haven’t gotten much further than a few practical test parts yet. But it seems as though the technology is reaching a turning point, as it is receiving FAA approval and has also become cheaper and faster than competing technologies. As a result, Honeywell has now begun taking the 3D printing technology out of the laboratories, and into the engine development realm. Metal 3D printing is finally ready for lift-off.
A new study has shown how online 3D printing platforms have fostered a new culture of collaboration that can turn almost anybody in the world into a serious innovator, but there’s a long way to go to make that happen.
The study focuses on turning users into innovators and analysed 22 online platforms. The results in the Journal of Engineering and Manufacturing Technology Management clearly state that companies have to set to build advanced platforms that help bring the end user into the design process.
3D printing has already changed the world and there is a vast amount of untapped potential. Every day we report on new breakthroughs and we have barely scratched the surface of what 3D printing is actually capable of.
Many are still waiting for the advent of a desktop 3D printer in every home—as ubiquitous as the PC or the kitchen stove—and the common practice of simply fabricating virtually whatever we want due to need or whim before they will believe 3D printing truly has a future. It may be easy to adopt that opinion if you aren’t keeping track of the accelerated pace at which the technology is evolving, and missing out on projections from expert analysts researching areas like that of 3D printed medical devices or investigating what kind of revenues the industry of 3D printing and related technology will produce just in the next year.
Somehow though, it’s all very believable when you hear it from GE—a company that’s certainly not only an inspiration for many others in terms of massive innovation but perhaps a role model too for other industrial heavy hitters as they pave the way for additive manufacturing to progress further around the world, from a smart factory in Chakan, India to their latest $40 million Center for Additive Technology Advancement in Pittsburgh.
The UK’s innovation agency are running a competition that will award £4.5 million ($5.82m) to, “projects that stimulate innovation in additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing.” I spoke with the lead technologist for high value manufacturing at Innovate UK, Robin Wilson, to learn more. In this interview he explains how to access funding for 3D printing projects, what sectors should expect to see the biggest revenue in the next years, where there are opportunities for businesses and where are the 3D printing job opportunities for individuals.
“We think AM could be worth £1 billion ($1.29b) per year incremental business for the UK by 2020,” he tells me. Wilson is well suited to this role having worked with additive manufacturing for more than 20 years and is no stranger to innovation. During his time at automotive maker Land-Rover he worked on, “a fore-runner of Industry 4.0.” He explains, “we CAD modeled the whole car and how it would be put together in real time to not only get the product design right but the manufacturing environment could also be developed in parallel.” This was more than 2 decades before the current interest around intelligent factories.
Even in its relative infancy, 3D printing has created an enormous list of possibilities: dental aligners to straighten your teeth, unique toys for your children, inexpensive custom prosthetics for people with limb deficiencies, and restoring lost or destroyed cultural artifacts. It can also be used to create untraceable firearms and an endless supply of copyright infringements.
Just as when the internet developed, 3D printing is opening doors to amazing opportunities and benefits – as well as some undeniable dangers. Also called “additive manufacturing,” 3D printing’s enabling of truly decentralized, democratized innovation will challenge traditional legal, economic and social norms. Potentially faulty products and counterfeit goods are again among the leading concerns. Some people are already calling for preemptive regulation of 3D printing on those grounds.
3D printing is a “game changer” for manufacturing, but its real impact on supply chains will take years to play out, experts say.
According to the 2016 MHI Annual Industry Report, Accelerating change: how innovation is driving digital, always on supply chains, only 17 percent of nearly 900 supply chain professionals surveyed said they believe that 3D printing can be a competitive advantage, and only six percent consider it disruptive; 45 percent say it will have some impact.
However, adoption rates are expected to rise significantly. In the survey, conducted with Deloitte Consulting LLP, roughly half (48 percent) of respondents felt that 3D printing will be adopted in their supply chain over the next six to 10 years, compared with a 14 percent adoption rate today.
Manufacturing is an ongoing business throughout the world. The goal of any production company is to save time and produce more revenue. Car manufacturing companies, for example, extend a lot of labor usage to produce even one car. There are many different ways to attempt some control and efficiency over the production cost, however. German technology has come up with some new ways of cutting back on production time and costs.
By analyzing and predicting the necessary needs before starting the production of a vehicle, the proper plans can be put in place. Changes can also be initiated in the original plan if needed. All of this can be done before any manual labor takes place, therefore, saving time and energy. There will be no need for the “practice” round in the shop. The technology will take care of the prep work.
Other digital help will come in the form of planning for customer satisfaction. The quality of products can be determined and improved, as well as better pricing options. Digital decision making with algorithm based programs can analyze quickly and efficiently. The development of products in the workplace will change forever.