Republished. Original Article can be Found Here
The future of 3D printing is bright and is an increasingly important pillar in the manufacturing renaissance. With the increased usage of the technology, conversations about additive manufacturing are a lot more tangible than they were just two years ago. Before, we were debating whether there is a financial or technological case to convert from traditional, high volume processes to an additive printer. Now, there are growing numbers of use-cases and demonstrable business benefits proving that additive can be used as a mainstream manufacturing technology. What can be done with 3D printing isn’t theoretical anymore; it’s fact.
Several industries—including healthcare, automotive and aerospace and defense—have been experiencing impactful production and business transformations within key areas of their business given the maturation of additive technologies and material supply-chains. For instance, interior aircraft parts like ducting, vents and airflow systems created with additive manufacturing permit designers to trim weight, reduce the number of components in assemblies, and conform to tight cabin interiors. In addition, additive provides design freedom to experiment with more effective and efficient part shapes, with fewer potential points of failure. These give manufacturers more flexibility in creating their products all while keeping pace with contracting production cycles.
In a recent survey conducted by Jabil, we discovered that in just over a year, the number of companies utilizing 3D printing as well as the variety of applications rocketed dramatically; the percentage of companies using additive to manufacture production parts rose from 27 percent to 52, bridge production increased from 23 percent to 39, and repair went from 14 percent to 38. Although the 3D printing industry is currently worth around $9.3 billion, a report by Smithers Pira predicts that the additive manufacturing industry will be worth $55.8 billion by 2027. Download the full Jabil survey report.
Scalability from Prototyping to Production
3D printing use for bridge production has grown 70 percent in just two years. In that time, automotive, transportation and heavy equipment industries have been the most frequent users of the technology for this purpose.
Additive manufacturing allows for easy scalability from prototype to full-scale manufacturing. After all, prototyping without the vision and expertise to go into full-scale production misses a key tenant of what additive stands to deliver which is more efficient life-cycle management.
When volumes are still relatively low, if a brand is looking to print 100 parts for engineering testing, for instance, it’s easy to do so with additive manufacturing. Even quadrupling that number can be done with no added retooling costs using 3D printing. Additive is the perfect fit for low to mid-volume production. With the right level of planning, engineering, and material development, a part developed using additive can seamlessly transition into rate production equipment such as injection molding.
Producing a part on-demand with 3D printing enables manufacturers to print parts as needed instead of pulling the part from a supply warehouse. On demand production will help companies realize huge reductions in inventory and storage costs. In the automotive industry, for example, spare parts inventory could be reduced by 90 percent with 3D printing, according to a report from MIT.
Today, we’re moving from a capability conversation to capacity conversation. But in the future, 3D printing will be able to support all facets of new product introduction (NPI) where scaling volume to achieve price points will become decreasingly important.
Normalizing Digitization and Reorganizing the Supply Chain
Additive manufacturing is leading the way in the digital transformation of Industry 4.0. It’s one of the purest digital technologies because it doesn’t require tooling and fixturing, thereby eliminating or reducing switching costs in moving a file to different locations and printers. That’s a radical departure from labor-intensive methods employed by the manufacturing industry over the last 200 years.
In fact, the most disruptive aspect of additive has little to do with the actual printers—it’s the conversion of a digital form into a physical good, meaning a file that has a representation of the final product you want. 3D printing is the first step on the journey to digital transformation.
Rather than stocking a warehouse full of parts that might become obsolete and mass quantities of spare parts that may or may not be in demand, additive manufacturing condenses the piles of boxes eating up physical space into digital files that can be stored in the Cloud and easily accessed if they are ever needed.
In addition to digital inventory, distributed manufacturing is also changing how companies are incorporating 3D printing into their digital strategy. Instead of considering a centralized solution, distributed manufacturing enables companies to decentralize production so they can manufacture the final product closer to the customer.
With 3D printing, manufacturers can better connect the physical supply chain with a digital thread and manage products more efficiently from concept to end-of-life. Manufacturing can be distributed to any location that has digital manufacturing systems in place simply by sending a file. This decentralization enables a more collaborative, transparent and efficient supply chain. If a natural disaster hits, additive manufacturing will be able to right itself and move forward much more quickly than traditional manufacturing.
In the future, a hybrid version of manufacturing will include large factories, as well as larger numbers of smaller sites with 3D print farms, or even printers being deployed in alternative locations, like service and support centers, distribution centers, or even in people’s homes. 3D printing will eventually become simple enough that most households will be able to pull files and print a product with just a few flicks of their wrists, like 2D printing at Kinko’s a mere ten years ago. We’re already on this course, and we’re just beginning to distribute closer to consumption and becoming more agile.
Not too long ago, the battery case on one of my son’s toys broke and I 3D printed a new one. It’s starting to reach the point where you wonder, “What can’t we print?” And when we start to dissect everything down to the molecular level, it’s just a matter of time before individual consumers can print food or glasses frames or…well, anything. In the future, 3D printing will empower more consumers.
Slant 3D offers high volume production of 3D printed parts as an alternative to injection molding. Simply submit a 3D model of your file and our engineers will work with you to get it quoted for production.
Offering Greater Flexibility and More Customized Designs
A prevailing consumer trend that we have noticed across many industries is the desire for personalization. Rather than purchasing a mass-produced item, customers are more frequently wanting a product that is created for them specifically, gratifying their personal tastes and preferences.
This is enabled by additive manufacturing’s ability to offer low-volume production. 3D printing gives manufacturers more flexibility in responsive design. Instead of having to hoist large quantities of identical objects onto the public, they can afford to produce smaller batches, allowing designers and engineers to adjust product designs and innovate in a cost-effective manner as inspiration strikes or customer feedback trickles in.
The Future of 3D Printing is in Materials
While substantial investments in the additive manufacturing ecosystem are fueling growth, I don’t think you can overstate the significance of the materials. Outside of the high cost of the equipment, the next big barrier is materials and the closed ecosystem which has stymied the industry’s growth. Numerous types of 3D printing materials are on the market today, but very few are advanced enough to meet the quality or regulatory requirements of every industry.
With current challenges surrounding volumes in most industries, suppliers and manufacturers aren’t incentivized to create the materials necessary for new applications. However, I believe that the future of 3D printing is in materials—specifically engineered and application specific materials. The different needs of diverse industries all require custom solutions to their problems. Integrating new engineered materials will transform a new generation of applications, including heavily regulated industries.
Creating a More Sustainable Future with 3D Printing
Finally, two of the key tenets to additive manufacturing are sustainability and conservation. One of the intrinsic benefits is that scrap material is reduced, if not eliminated. As Simon Ford and Mélanie Despeisse point out in their essay, “Additive Manufacturing and Sustainability: An Exploratory Study of the Advantages and Challenges,” additive manufacturing mimics biological processes by creating objects layer by layer, rather than produce a hulking item that must be whittled and chunks carved out to achieve the desired shape. “It is inherently less wasteful than traditional subtractive methods of production and holds the potential to decouple social and economic value creation from the environmental impact of business activities,” they write.
Aside from reducing waste, 3D printing also conserves energy. The Metal Powder Industries Federation did a studythat listed 17 steps required to produce a truck gear using subtractive manufacturing versus the six steps it takes to accomplish the same task with additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, the same product took less than half the energy. Additionally, by bringing products closer to the customer, 3D printing reduces the need for transporting products and materials, thereby positively affecting the quantity of carbon poured into the atmosphere. Therefore, the future of 3D printing will lead to a more sustainable future overall.
This is a pivotal time for the manufacturing industry. We’re standing at an epicenter where we don’t have a fully mature technology, both in the physical representation and the printers and how we want to manage everything on the digital side. But additive manufacturing is demonstrating its transformative nature and has already begun to reshape businesses.
According to our survey, over the next two to five years, 86 percent of companies expect their use of 3D printing to at least double, and just less than 40 percent expect their usage to increase five times or more. As we adopt additive manufacturing, companies will be able to do smaller batch sizes, realize faster NPI and development and, ultimately, where the cost curves intersect, use it as a full serial production tool. In doing that, we’re laying the foundation, and the distributive manufacturing model will be here to stay. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the future of 3D printing is bright.
When creating a mold for a new product, it generally requires 6-8 weeks to complete. This is 6-8 weeks that a company is waiting to move forward. Then once the mold is complete it can take several weeks of verification to ensure that the parts that mold is making are viable.
Contrast this is Production 3D printing. It requires less than 1 week to prepare a part for production and have a sample for verification. Then parts can be produced at a rate of thousands per week. (And though the rate of production for additive manufacturing is a bit slower, its Just-in-time capabilities saves warehousing and lost inventory costs).
How can production additive manufacturing be considered "slower" when weeks are saved during design and setup.
Let's actually see where the break-even for Time is with Injection molding and production 3D printing.
There is also the component of Design Time. With 6 weeks for a mold to be created it is 6 weeks before a design can be verified for production. If there is an error in the design then the process has to start over from scratch.
With additive manufacturing a simple design change can be implemented within days. And during production, it can be implemented within hours. This is simply not possible for injection molding.
Additive manufacturing is often considered a slow process when compared to other production processes. On a time of part per machine basis that might be true. But when so much time is saved during design and setup, additive manufacturing starts to look faster than injection molding. Would you rather have part in the warehouse within 2 weeks or within 10 weeks?
Additive Manufacturing is a More Flexible Alternative to Injection Molding. Saving Time in Design and Manufacturing
Whenever a mold is a created a design is literally set into stone. This means that the product cannot be changed without starting from scratch and paying for the cost of a new mold. For new products and new companies that cost of the mold is a single up front cost worth thousands of dollars, that might be unusable.
Molds are also difficult to design for. Shrinkage, draft angles, and general geometries are all factors that severely constrain design of injection molded parts. And the application of textures is either expensive if integrated into the mold or must be done in post processing.
If a product is not well proven, with preorders or customers guaranteed to buy it, injection molding is not a good option, because it is a high up front cost, to create a product that might not address the market and needs to be redesigned.
The wheels for the toy above, were produced by Slant 3D. The client begain with a simple solid wheel. But about 30% of the way through production they changed the design to the "spring-hub." All they had to do was send the new file and within an hour the parts being produced were updated to the new design. No time or money lost in retooling.
Production 3D Printing solves the inflexibility in injection molding.
Additive manufacturing, or production 3D printing, fixes the inflexibility of molding. High volume production of 3D printed parts allows for the production of as large of quantities as injection molding. But, since there is no tooling required to make 3D printed parts, products can be updated and changed at anytime during production. Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a new mold a client just e-mails a new file. Then every part off the line from then on is that upgraded part.
Production 3D printing also has the benefit or allowing production of more varied and complex geometries. That is not to say that there are not "best practices" when designing for additive, there are. But there is still far more freedom in the design of part than injection molding. Textures can be applied for free. Internal cavities and channels are possible. And parts can be implanted inside of the part during the process (especially with FDM). Curved and Organic shapes like the 3D printed pencil holders shown below are also feasible with additive and impossible for molding..
The Time Saved with Additive Manufacturing
Within this discussion of the flexibility of high volume production 3D printing vs. molding there is also the question of time. The time lost in in retooling can put production behind days, weeks, and even months. These all have a cost associated with them. The fact that additive manufacturing is able to almost instanteously update and continue saves all of the effort.
Lastly there is the question of delivery schedule and Just-In-Time capabilities. Molds are intended to be used for very large runs of parts. This means that clients must makes large quantities and then store them, regardless of demand. Production 3D printing does not have this problem. Parts can be produce precisely at the rate of demand, ramping up and down as needs. Additive can make 10,000 parts one week, and 2000 parts then next without extra cost. This also decreases warehousing fees and losses from unsold inventory.
Final Word on Molding vs Additive Manufacturing
Molding is a great technology for products intended to sell millions of units, without update, for relatively large periods of time. But in a world where product optimization and addressing customer feedback can mean the difference between success and failure, especially for more niche or specialty products, additive manufacturing is clearly a better option.
Slant 3D produces 10,000's of parts every week for clients ranging from startups growing their first products to corporate clients, like amazon, implementing new lines. We are here to help you make you product successful with large-scale additive manufacturing to let you go from 100 parts 100,000 parts. Just send us a 3D model of your part to get started and one of our sales engineers will get in contact with you with a quote.