Two recent announcements from HP and UPS may mark the beginning of a fundamental change in manufacturing on a scale not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Although on-demand manufacturing isn’t exactly new—companies like Fast Radius (formerly CloudDDM), Proto Labs and 3Dilligent have been offering it for years—the entrance of major players like HP and UPS into the on-demand market could be game-changing.
UPS Collaborates with SAP and Fast Radius to Create On-Demand Manufacturing Network
Why would the world’s largest package and delivery company care about 3D printing?
The answer is logistics. Although 3D printing could eventually make physical deliveries obsolete, right now 3D printing services still need to ship their products. Rather than being eventually cut out as a middleman, UPS is aiming to stay ahead of the curve.
The company recently announced that it will launch a distributed, on-demand manufacturing network using the Fast Radius On-Demand Production Platform and SAP’s extended supply chain software. The goal is to network 3D printers at UPS Stores in over 60 locations throughout the US with Fast Radius’ 3D printing factory, integrating 3D printing into the existing UPS supply chain model.
Given that UPS is a minority investor in Fast Radius through the UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund (SEF), its choice to partner with this particular on-demand manufacturer should come as no surprise. Indeed, one can’t help but wonder how long this deal has been in the works.
Peter Weijmarshausen is the CEO and Co-Founder of Shapeways, the world’s leading 3D printing marketplace and community. [Full disclosure: my venture firm Lux Capital is an equity investor]. Prior to Shapeways, Peter was the CTO of Sangine, where he and his team designed and developed satellite broadband modems. Peter was also Director of Engineering at Aramiska, where he was responsible for delivering a business broadband service via satellite. Earlier in his career, Peter worked as ICT manager for Not a Number where he facilitated the adoption of the widely successful open source 3D software Blender. Peter was born and raised in the Netherlands and moved to New York in 2010.
What is the current state of 3D printing technology?
3D printing is the transforming manufacturing into a digital technology for the first time, moving us from an analog to a digital realm. This changes all the rules of the game. It changes who is in control, because analog manufacturing requires big companies to produce large quantities of the same good. These companies need to have the capital to deploy these large quantities and an understanding of which goods will be economically viable. Analog manufacturing requires market research, prototyping, focus group research, and the supply chain and retail channels to distribute products.
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.
We should start with some definitions: 3D printing, less commonly known as additive manufacturing, is a process to make things in layers using plastic, metal or resin.
Those who immerse themselves in the technology believe it has the potential to turn manufacturing on its head because it plays havoc with the traditional supply chain, shortens product development and removes costs.
Even with all its change-the-world promise, 3D printing still needs to clean up some problems, namely the process is slow, expensive and has a steep learning curve.
Those obstacles are already being addressed if not hurdled in the near term. For example, HP’s 3D printers use thermal inkjet arrays and multiple liquid agents in a process called Multi Jet Fusion, said to be 10 times faster than today’s standard machines. And Carbon’s speedy Continuous Liquid Interface Production 3D printing technology is referred to by some as a game changer.
Read more (This one requires registration)
In the 3D printing industry, nothing may be more wasteful than an idle 3D printer, particularly when it comes to industrial systems that can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thankfully, the Internet has the uncanny ability to network people all over the world, resulting in the launch of businesses that can connect 3D printer owners to those that need parts printed. One such company is 3Discovered, which has, ahead of RAPID 2016, launched its Parts Forever service to connect industrial 3D printing bureaus to customers in search of unique or legacy parts.
Since its inception in 2014, Chicago-based 3Discovered has built up its network of industrial 3D printer owners, while it has simultaneously built a case around the need for digital inventory in the modern age. By replacing stock items with 3D-printable CAD models, companies have the ability to only house the necessary components needed at a given time and can 3D print specialty items, such as spare parts, on-demand. 3Discovered has now initiated its Parts Forever service in the hopes that such a model will be incorporated into the supply chains of parts suppliers, equipment manufacturers and end users.
The ability to 3D print spare parts in a moment’s notice is exactly why NASA is experimenting with zero-gravity 3D printing, but this application can also be a huge advantage down here on earth. German national railway company Deutsche Bahn has also recognized the advantages of low storage costs and custom-fitting production, and is hoping to apply that to their own rail network in the near future. To realize this, they have just set up a collaboration of companies, startups and research institutes called Mobility goes Additive, which will explore possibilities and promote end-product 3D printing.
The existence of Mobility goes Additive has recently been confirmed by Deutsche Bahn’s innovation manager Stefanie Bricwede, who talked about their plans and ambitions during the 3D Druck für Automotive conference in Ettlingen, Germany. As she explained at the event, they decided to set up a separate cluster of partners to increase the focus on ground-based mobility. 3D printing innovations, she says, are currently mostly being driven by the aviation industry and therefore dictated by an obsession with weight. But companies like Deutsche Bahn focus on completely different advantages, and therefore require a different approach.
Most hearing aids in the U.S. are now custom-made on 3D printers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first 3D-printed pills. Carmakers have started using 3D technology to produce parts. And last year saw the first demonstration of a digital printer producing multilayer, standards-based circuit boards. Imagine the changes afoot in the pharmaceutical, medical device, automotive, and consumer electronics industries.
3D printing is poised to redefine global manufacturing and distribution. It could upend supply chains, business models, customer relationships, and even entrepreneurship itself. It may do to physical goods what cloud computing is now doing to digital services; what the PC, internet, and smart mobility have done to personal computing; and what outsourcing did to software development and business processing — take mass distribution and innovation to the next level while realigning the very geography of work and trade.
When talking about exciting new advancements that are coming to the supply chain, the discussion will always usually end up focused around 3D printing. Rightly so, as the 3D printer has opened up new opportunities never before possible in the supply chain. Rather than having to wait for a specialized part, companies can now print the part they need right on site. This can be a huge time and cost saver for companies involved in projects, but when looking at the overall supply chain worldwide, 3D printing is a pretty niche example. Even with 3D printers popping up everywhere, changing the way companies rely on the supply chain, there will always be limitations.
Sure, 3D printers might be able to print space habitats on Mars, but they can’t print everything and there will always be a need to transport an item(s) from one destination to another. 3D printing is revolutionary, but there is another absolute game changer about to deploy in the supply side that is an evolution; self-driving trucks. When looking at the amount of freight moved just in America alone, there was 9.2 billion tons (primary shipment only) moved by truck representing 67% of the total tonnage moved in 2011.
The first time intellectual property attorney John Hornick saw a 3D printer at work, he thought it was a joke. It wasn’t until a friend at Johns Hopkins University convinced him that the tech was the real deal that Hornick took a deep dive into how 3D printing machines could change the world.
Hornick’s findings are collected in the new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World, and below he tells Inverse exactly how most people may own a 3D printer by 2025, no matter how implausible that seems now.