3D printing is poised to upend a lot of manufacturing and supply chain models that are entrenched in many industries, but the impact may be much wider than that. In this recent Harvard Business Review article, the author suggests viewing the potential of 3D printing through an unexpected prism: taxes.
Channing Flynn, an international tax partner at Ernst & Young, as well as the company’s global technology industry tax leader wrote the piece, and brings up a number of good points that could trip up companies adopting 3D printing as well as their respective governments.
Exactly how – and how quickly – 3D printing is adopted will obviously vary by industry and company, but Flynn’s piece outlines some of the competing economic priorities that will affect how widely the technology may be adopted.
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.
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.
Good to see more mnaufacturers pursuing 3D printing as a production approach.
Given the possibilities of 3D printing to create new, efficient designs and to reduce overall inventory for manufacturers, it should be no surprise that world-leading machinery producer Caterpillar Inc. has embraced the technology as well, with the launch of the Caterpillar 3D Printing & Innovation Accelerator. The launch of the new tech ecosystem corresponds with the opening of three new innovation spaces at Caterpillar’s Global Research & Development Center in Mossville, Illinois.
Like many manufacturers, Caterpillar has been using 3D printing for prototyping for some time. The company has printed 50,000 models for rapid prototyping purposes over the last 25 years. At the moment, Caterpillar already operates more than 80 different 3D printers throughout its business, including approximately 30 industrial systems and 50 desktop 3D printers. The 3D Printing & Innovation Accelerator will see the company further implement this technology through three new spaces that represent different parts of the manufacturing process: the Innovation Accelerator, the Additive Manufacturing Factory, and the Cat® MicroFoundry.
There is general consensus that 3D printing has potentially revolutionary implications for industry and, along with it, for the law. In terms of products liability law, its consequences for industry and consumers injured by 3D-printed products are potentially just as far-reaching.
Consider a fact pattern under which an auto parts manufacturer makes CAD files available to auto parts stores so that they may 3D print replacement auto parts on demand and on-site in response to customer needs. An auto parts store sells the 3D-printed part to a customer, who later is involved in an accident and blames the 3D-printed part for causing the accident.
Most engineering professionals know 3D printing technology isn’t new — it’s actually been around for several decades. As the technology has evolved, more industrial users are applying it to address product complexity, time and budget constraints, as well as prototyping. Industries leading the way for industrial applications include aerospace, medical, automotive and dental.
According to research firm Gartner, in its 2014 report titled “3D Printer Market Survey Reveals Enterprise Demand Drivers for Technology, Printer and Vendor Decision Making,” early adopters of the technology were able to easily identify cost savings. “Respondents felt overwhelmingly that using a 3D printer as part of their supply chain generally reduces the cost of existing processes, especially research and product development costs,” said Pete Basilier, research director at Gartner. “The mean cost reduction for finished goods is between 4.1% and 4.3%, which is an impressive figure. It shows that early adopters of the technology are finding clear benefits, which are likely to drive further adoption.”
The market doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Wohler’s Report 2016 stated the industry grew to $5.165 billion with a CAGR of 25.9%, and the number of industrial-grade AM system vendors rose from 49 to 62.
An overview of how 3D printing materials and technologies combine for different outcomes and applications.
Illustration courtesy of Additively.com.
Technology key: BJ (Binder Jetting), EBM (Electron Beam Melting), FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), HP (Hybrid Processes), LM (Laser Melting), LS (Laser Sintering), MJ (Material Jetting), PJ (Photopolymer Jetting), SL (Stereolithography)
With 3D printing technologies emerging rapidly and a wide variety of industries looking to adopt 3D printing to streamline production and save on material costs, there is a lot of potential for market expansion. In fact, the research firm Canalys has forecast the 3D printing market, which includes 3D printer sales, materials, and associated services, will continue to experience rapid growth and reach US $16.2 billion by 2018.
Canalys Senior Analyst, Tim Shepherd, points out that “this is a market with enormous growth potential now that the main barriers to up-take are being addressed. Advances in technology are yielding faster print times and enabling objects to be printed in greater combinations of materials, colors, and finishes. Crucially, prices are also falling, making the technology an increasingly feasible option for a broad variety of enterprise and consumer uses, restricted only by computer-aided design competencies and printer availability – both of which are set to improve significantly.”
It is no secret that all branches of the United States military have been keeping a close eye on 3D printing technology. With the variety of uses across all industries, 3D printing has proven its versatility. Besides the ongoing research in a number of directions, such as 3D printing of replacement bones, battle armor, and vehicle parts, the Navy has already successfully tested ballistic missiles containing 3D printed components.
According to Business Insider, new interest is being shown in the field recently, as many patents on the original technology are expiring, thereby allowing for competition that will result in better quality products at a much lower cost. The first major patents expired in 2009 allowing new printers capable of using metal, wood, and fabric to become more available.
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.