FACTORIES, THE CHIEF innovation of the industrial revolution, are cathedrals of productivity, built to shelter specialized processes and enforce the division of labor.
Adam Smith, who illuminated their function on the first page of The Wealth of Nations, offered the celebrated example of a pin factory: “I have a seen a small manufactory… where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. [They] could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins a day… Separately and independently… they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin a day.”
But the benefits of factories suggest their limitations. They are not reprogrammable: To make different products, a factory must retool with different machines. Thus, the first product shipped is much more expensive than the next million, and innovation is hobbled by the need for capital expenditure and is never rapid. More, specialization compels multinational businesses to circle the globe with supply chains and warehouses, because goods must be shipped and stored.
The Dutch multinational banking and financial services corporation ING did a study last year that predicted that the mass adoption of cheap, high-speed 3D printing could decrease global trade by as much as 25%.
The reason given was that it would cut down production time and reduce the needs for imports.
However, a Harvard Business Review article in 2015 suggested that 3D printing works best in areas where customization is key, for applications such as printing hearing aids and dental implants.
In one of Wolfgang Lehmacher’s World Economic Forum articles, co-written with Martin Schwemmer of Supply Chain Services SCS, they argue that 3D-printing based production will bring factories closer to customers and products faster to the markets.
Nevertheless, it still has its restrictions.
Manufacturers are missing the board perspective on 3D printing. They need to completely reconsider their manufacturing processes.
3D printing technology has been around for decades, mostly used for creating prototypes. Advances in the technology have allowed 3D printing to morph into additive manufacturing (AM). When making one-offs or spare parts, 3D printing becomes a simple alternative to machining or molded parts. However, everything changes when it comes to production manufacturing. AM becomes a disruptive technology when you can print a single assembly that was previously 15 separate parts.
“The vast majority of those working with 3D printing still don’t see it in a broad enough perspective. They take this component or part that they’ve made for years, and say, ‘What would it take to 3D print it?’ It takes more time and money, and so they say this doesn’t work for us,” Jack Heslin, president and VP of business development at 3DTechTalks and Lazarus3D, told Design News. “But they’re not redesigning their manufacturing to take advantage of 3D printing. If they do, they might find that what was 100 parts will be 10 parts or less. That will affect their time-to-market, their accounting, their cost, everything.”
According to Gartner, 3D printing has great potential. Total spending is predicted to grow at a 66.5% CAGR to $17.7 billion in 2020 with over 6.5 million printer sales. Gartner also predicts that “by 2020, 75% of manufacturing operations worldwide will use 3D-printed tools, jigs and fixtures made in-house or by a service bureau to produce finished goods. Also, 3D printing will reduce new product introduction timelines by 25%.” Enterprise 3D printer shipments is also expected to grow 57.4% CAGR through 2020.
The top priorities related to 3D printing include accelerated product development, offering customized products and limited series and increasing production flexibility. Here are additional 3D printing market forecasts:
- 57% of all 3D printing work done is in the first phases of the new product development
- 55% companies predict they will be spending more in 3D printing services and solutions in 2017
- 47% of companies surveyed have seen a greater ROI on their 3D printing investments in 2017 compared to 2016
The manufacturing industry could be transformed by 3-D printing, but business owners don’t understand the technology, slowing its adoption, according to Adrian Keppler, CEO of industrial technology services player EOS.
“People don’t understand it, and they have a hard time understanding what it means for their business,” he told CNBC’s “The Rundown” on Thursday.
The 3-D technology allows the construction of lightweight parts — a feature that Keppler said could benefit vehicle makers in particular as the auto industry shifts toward electrification, and as more regulators impose emission limits.
3D printing leads the way toward a more innovative future. Here are some areas of life that are seeing a lot more benefit from 3D printers than others.
Recently, a company in San Francisco announced it could 3D print an entire house in just 24 hours. The startup called Apis Cor used a mobile 3D printer to build a 400-square-foot house in the middle of a Russian town. While 3D printing isn’t necessarily a new invention, the developments of additive manufacturing continue to wow us and show a future that may be more efficient. It could even be able to solve large-scale problems. So where are some of the areas that 3D printing can provide innovation? Here are five of the biggest sectors that have the most to gain from 3D printing.
A new study of the potential for 3D printing in the healthcare industry predicts wide-ranging advancements and disruptions as the technology is adopted by more hospitals and manufacturers.
The report, published by Dr. Jason Chuen and Dr. Jasamine Coles-Black of Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, outlines five key areas where 3D printing will likely have the biggest impact on healthcare.
Chuen, the director of vascular surgery at Austin Health and director of the hospital’s 3D medical printing laboratory, uses 3D-printed models of aortas to practice delicate surgeries.
“By using the model I can more easily assess that the stent is the right size and bends in exactly the right way when I deploy it,” said Dr. Chuen.
The five areas discussed in the report include:
1. Bioprinting and Tissue Engineering: Scientists are already building 3D-printed organoids to mimic human organs at a small scale, and the report predicts that eventually hospitals will be able to print human tissue structures that could eliminate the need for some transplants.
However, Chuen says that “Unless there is some breakthrough that enables us to keep the cells alive while we print them, then I think printing a full human organ will remain impossible. But where there is potential is in working out how to reliably build organoids or components that we could then bind together to make them function like an organ.”
Technology represents the largest uncertainty for which most companies do not have a strategy—yet the right strategy turns uncertainty into opportunity. For example, with technology, Walmart turned the uncertainties of retail procurement and logistics into an empire, Amazon turned customer order uncertainty into the basis of its mission – “Earth’s Most Customer Centric Company.” Google famously turned the mass of internet chaos into actionable information for other companies.
These companies reflect the earliest transition from the Third Industrial Revolution that focuses on digital inter-connectivity to the Fourth Industrial Revolution that focuses on combining technologies across all arenas: digital, physical and biological. Many companies are still stuck in the Third Industrial Revolution, with prognostications of digitizing and integrating supply chains. The problem is that digitization has become the price of entry—nearly every one of the long list of retailers that has recently gone bankrupt was digitized and “connected.”
It usually takes the Navy around five months to build even the smallest submarines to ferry Navy SEALs into and out of combat zones — but thanks to new technology, the Navy’s most elite warfighters could slap together a submersible hull in just a few weeks.
That’s the promise behind the Optionally Manned Technology Demonstrator (OMTD), the U.S. military’s first 3D-printed submarine hull, unveiled by the Navy on July 24. Fabricated by the high-tech Big Area Additive Manufacturing 3D printing machine at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the 30-foot submersible hull was inspired by the SEAL Delivery Vehicles used by the branch and U.S. Special Operations Command to deploy Navy special warriors and their gear into particularly dangerous areas.