The future of 3D printing: the next phase
3D printing is the most exciting print technology of the moment. Yet, although there was an initial rush to buy machines, usage is yet to make it into the mainstream. OK, there’s a use for the technology when it comes to communication and form, function and fit uses (check out an earlier blog post I wrote here) but what will it take for 3D printing to become a cornerstone of the working world?
From prototype to finished product
For me, the answer lies is in the integration of 3D print into manufacturing – and the associated shift in mindset needed to view this wonderful print technology as an everyday business solution rather than as a fascinating idea.
Rapid prototyping is one thing and 3D print definitely has a role to play in speeding up product development and improving everything from ergonomic fit through to stylish design. But surely the growth in 3D printing over the next three years will come in finished product production; such are the benefits of 3D print technology. Being able to print components on demand and thus reduce cash tied up in stock, printing on demand, customising output, bringing management in-house… the list of benefits goes on.
Why I see the real growth of 3D printing being driven by manufacturing is all to do with value. Yes, engineers are achieving great things on their printers, but where’s the value to the business? Value comes from productivity and 3D technology brings that to a production line. If you can print a fully habitable 1,000 sq ft house in a day, imagine what else can be achieved.
Seeing the potential
The likes of Airbus has already noticed – and started to take advantage of the potential. The first of its A350 XWB aircraft delivered in December 2014 contained more than 1,000 3D-printed parts.
Following the aviation industry’s lead, the motor industry is also exploring the benefits of 3D printing. A couple of months ago, consulting firm Carlisle & Company predicted that car dealerships may soon use their own 3D printers to make auto parts onsite, reducing distribution costs and taking the much vaunted ‘Just in Time’ production model to a whole new level.
When it comes to component parts metal rules the roost so, if we’re going to see 3D print become a key manufacturing solution, printing in metals will be a crucial development.
A disruptive technology
The ease of manufacturing via 3D print isn’t necessarily all good news. For example, who needs to buy a box of nuts and bolts online when they can print just the one nut that they need? Therefore, could 3D be used to create more complex components that can’t be copied or printed as easily at home? Could we see a rise in the sale of 3D print templates and software?
Since 3D printing allows prototyping to be accessible to individuals, it takes the first steps towards democratising manufacturing. We can shift away from big business manufacturing to economical DIY production. For example, instead of a big biomedical firm investing millions in development, doctors at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals in Manhattan were able to 3D print a trachea for implantation at a fraction of the cost, the Daily News reported.
Whatever the future of 3D printing there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a disruptive technology that is changing the business landscape. When organisations of all sizes start viewing it as a valid business solution and not just a new technology, we’ll really start to see rapid uptake.