Small businesses are contributing to the development of 3D printing with exciting avenues being pursued.
The transformative abilities of 3D printing have been seen across many industries such as manufacturing, medical and aerospace. Further growth is happening now in smaller scale use, for example in education and small business. New research from IDC shows the global 3D printing market is on track to continue its expansion, as it is forecast to exceed $46 billion (about US$35 billion) by 2020, double the $21 billion (about US$15.9 billion) forecasted for 2016.*
At Y Soft, we believe that organisations looking to incorporate 3D printing should consider its use in rapid prototyping and product development.
From fashion designers to aerospace engineers, 3D printing is transforming the way products are designed, tested and created. The technology was invented in the 1980s, but largely used to create prototypes from weaker materials. It wasn’t until the expiration of a crucial patent seven years ago that 3D printing really started to emerge as a tool that could transform manufacturing. Today, many are hailing it as a key component of a new industrial revolution. But experts claim another change could still transform the industry.
That change is being driven by cloud-based software. By building up complex shapes, layer by layer, 3D printing is able to create intricate, bespoke designs far easier and at a much lower cost than traditional manufacturing techniques. By its very nature, it offers a collaborative approach to creating product designs. With the help of the cloud, anyone with an internet connection can create, adjust store and stream designs to 3D printers anywhere in the world. Many believe the technology could help open up 3D printing for the wider population.
3D printing is a useful tool to manage capacity ramp up. Companies build up capacity to meet product demand. Managing the capacity is an art form.
Most companies build up capacity with the expectation of using it in full. Yet, market demand can be a mixed bag. Demand can go up due to several factors including:
- Adoption cycle
- Product promotion
- Seasonal trends
- Trade cycles
- Marketing campaigns, etc.
- Competition strategies.
Production capacity is not easy to scale up. In traditional manufacturing, several factors of production need to go up to increase capacity. These will include machinery, assembly areas, operators and a larger factory footprint.
These resources are quite expensive. They also have long lead times. They are also fixed in nature. Which means once you build them up, it is not easy to scale back.
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.
3D printers are the most powerful machines ever invented because they can make finished products—with all their parts—fully assembled. They may also be the greenest machines ever built.
Driven by a digital blueprint, these printers build layer upon layer of fused ceramics, glass, sand, plastic, metal, or other materials. In contrast, traditional manufacturing depends on assembly lines, lots of low-cost labour and mass production. Today, much of that manufacturing takes place in far-off lands, and products must be shipped in long and complex supply chains that extend around the world. All of this has a large energy footprint.
3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) eliminates assembly lines because a single machine can make an entire part or product, and one worker can run an entire room full of 3D printers. 3D printing allows parts to be made near the point of need. Regional manufacturing, distributed all over the world, shortens supply chains and reduces shipping and warehousing.
In addition, it is no more energy-expensive, per part, to 3D print one part vs. a million parts, to customize every part instead of making them all the same, and to make highly complex parts. Using traditional methods, making complex, one-off, and customized parts is an energy hog.
Burdened with a number of obsolete and broken aircraft, the US Marine Corps (USMC) is turning to additive manufacturing technology to help restore its fleet, giving pilots a better opportunity to receive essential training. The USMC has already trialled a 3D printing scheme in one of its battalions.
Back in April, we heard news of a military 3D printing experiment being carried out by the Marines of 1st Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group. The battalion had been given a number of on-loan 3D printers for a six-month period in order to print its own spare parts, with the USMC curious to see how the technology could be used to solve real-world defense problems. After seeing the 3D printers in action first-hand, ground radio repairman Cpl. Samuel Stonestreet commented that it was “very important for the Marine Corps and the Department of Defense as a whole to look into [3D printing] and see how we can implement it into missions.” Now, according to a report from Cpl. Jim Truxel (US Marine Corps 1977-1981) written for SAAB USA, the Marines could soon be heeding Cpl. Stonestreet’s advice as they look to take their additive exploits to the next level.
Panalpina’s strategic partnership with 3D printing specialist Shapeways is one more step in a march towards digital manufacturing that will challenge supply chain suppliers, including air cargo.
In May this year, software company SAP signed an agreement with UPS to collaborate to transform the ad hoc world of industrial 3D printing into a “seamless, on-demand manufacturing process from order through manufacturing and delivery”.
But just where are we in the development timeline of 3D technology, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, and what is the immediate challenge for airfreight?
In the aerospace industry, additive printing is already taking place for certain aircraft components.
At the Farnborough International Airshow, SAP signed a co-innovation agreement with APWorks, a subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space, which aims to “accelerate the adoption and standardisation of industrial 3D printing initiatives for the aerospace and defense industry”.
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 world’s largest manufacturer of trucks has turned to 3D printing to produce spare parts for its vast range of trucks.
Daimler has joined the likes of Audi and BMW, who have both adopted additive manufacturing for producing spare parts on a ‘just in time’ basis.
The German company sits alongside Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz in the Daimler Chrysler Group, so this is a significant development.
It will introduce 3D printing on a limited basis from September. It will start with simple plastic items like spring caps, mountings, air and cable ducts and clamps. In the end, though, it is almost inevitable that every service centre in the world will have a 3D printer and the capability to produce replacement metal and plastic parts on site.