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.
Your company may be looking at how you can leverage 3D printing. But are you viewing this disruptive technology through all the lenses you should be?
If you’re a manufacturer, you may be wondering which products you can produce through additive manufacturing, or which products your competitors are thinking about producing in this way.
If you’re not a manufacturer, you may be thinking that 3D printing doesn’t really apply to your business, except that some products you buy in the future will be produced on 3D printers.
But you might want to take a broader view of 3D printing. Because the true disruption of additive manufacturing won’t be in individual products or spare parts. Instead, it will be in business models and markets. Even if your company has nothing to do with manufacturing, 3D printing could affect you in profound ways.
When you think of innovations that 3D printing has brought to the supply chain, dentistry might not be the first industry to spring to mind. But 3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing of custom transparent orthodontic braces and transforming the customer experience.
Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers are used to create Align Technologies’ patient-specific Invisalign aligners. Every day, 3D printing is used to produce 150,000 custom molds based on a 3D digital model of a patient’s teeth, around which their braces are formed. These digital methods bring speed and agility to the process, which is made even more efficient by printing multiple molds simultaneously.
Someday, the dusty back shelves of America’s warehouses could be replaced by UPS and SAP-enabled 3-D printing.
The companies on Wednesday said their goal is to transform the now ad hoc realm of industrial 3-D printing into a seamless, on-demand manufacturing process, from order to manufacturing and delivery.
“We don’t think this is going to take over manufacturing anytime soon. But we do think it’s going to be a disruptor much in the same way that online retail has disrupted retailing,” said Hans Thalbauer, senior vice president for extended supply chain at SAP.
The year 2016 is quickly shaping up to be one of the hottest years on record for 3D printing innovations. Although there is still a lot of hype surrounding 3D printing and how it may or may not be the next industrial revolution, one thing is for certain: the cost of printing will continue to drop while the quality of 3D prints continues to rise.
This development can be traced to advanced 3D printing technologies becoming accessible due to the expiration of key patents on pre-existing industrial printing processes.