For a number of years I viewed 3D printing as a solution looking for a problem. I visited the Consumer Electronics Show and saw people printing accurate 3D chocolate renderings of their heads, which whilst being very clever, is largely useless. I wondered to myself where the technology was going, but in the last year or so things have changed and 3D printing seems to be finding its feet in terms of technology and applications, confirming its place in our future.
3D printing is now impacting the electronics supply chain from innovation to fulfillment; this is in part due to price. We are currently seeing 3D printers priced below $2,500, opening the technology up to consumers and innovators, while creating the opportunity to build ‘print farms’ with multiple printers producing small runs efficiently and economically. Another factor driving adoption is the use of more 3D printable materials, making more complex and more usable products possible.
Here are a few of the ways 3D printing is impacting the electronic supply chain.
Defense and aerospace Industries have been facing the risk of bogus parts manufactured by 3D printers.
The issue of product safety in these industries is thus critical. Commercial airplanes, for example, are designed and constructed using hundreds of thousands of parts, and quality inspectors are continually working to ensure counterfeit parts don’t find their way into the supply chain.
According to ECN Magazine, 3D printing of aircraft and other defense parts certainly transforms the military support environment, but the threat of counterfeit parts might reach this market.
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.
Emerging advancements in technology such as autonomous trucks, 3D printing and warehouse automation will foster changes in how shippers, retailers and manufacturers configure their supply chains and distribution strategies, spurring a need for different formats and locations for industrial real estate, according to a new report from CBRE Group.
Taken together, these advancements will encourage industrial users to modernise their networks to adapt to the fast-evolving market rather than requiring them to add more or fewer warehouses and distribution centres. Each of these technology categories are on track to reach widespread use by 2025.
In the automotive sector, 3D printing is seen as a key enabling technology for mass customization – the ability to quickly and cheaply add custom elements to individual vehicles. Japanese automaker Daihatsu Motor Co. has launched a new 3D printing pilot project that will allow customers to add unique elements to their new convertibles.
Customers buying Daihatsu’s Copen convertibles will now have the option of adding 3D-printed effects “skins” to customize their vehicles. The company is using Stratasys FDM 3D printing technology to build the three-dimensional patterns, which can be placed on the front and rear bumpers.
“The effect skin project was very attractive to us,” said Osamu Fujishita, chief engineer of the product planning division at Daihatsu Motor Company. “We’re interested in expanding the market for customized plastic bodied cars. And we see Stratasys 3D printing technology as extremely effective for this.”
The UK’s high tech manufacturing sector has an opportunity to get back on a very exciting growth curve.
Step-changes in technology can create business opportunities for companies and the precision manufacturing sector, which is so important to the electronics supply chain in the UK, has been presented with just such an opportunity in 3D printing.
3D printing is developing at a rapid pace. No longer is it just a useful tool for hobbyists or gimmick for gadget-watchers on TV.
It has manifested itself as a sophisticated fabrication technique which is ideally suited to advanced technology manufacturing.
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.
3D printing is still finding its role in manufacturing, but in an effort to show the industrial benefits of additive manufacturing, Schneider Electric has teamed up with Stratasys to develop and implement its own factory of the future.
Schneider has begun using Stratasys Polyjet and FDM-based 3D printers in product development, prototyping and manufacturing, all in an effort to streamline these processes, and it seems to be working.
Sylvain Gire, VP GSC transformation-industrialization at Schneider has outlined several ways that Stratasys’ 3D printing technology has improved efficiency.
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.