Innovation With The 3D Printer
3D printing awareness and application has been growing slowly but steadily for the last decade and it’s clear that its use will not be limited to prototyping for much longer but instead is likely to revolutionize mainstream commercial and industrial production. Harvard Business Review indicates that more than 30% of the top 300 largest global brands are either evaluating or using 3D printing. With advances in color 3D printing, lowered costs and rising quality, manufacturing companies are switching to volume production of 3D printed items while many education institutions now include 3D course content covering 3D printing, scanning and design. Investment in both the development and acquisition of this technology is up, and organizations both large and small are considering the potential for themselves.
Prototyping & Testing
A popular use of 3D printing technology to date is prototyping, creating models of new products and designs for consideration before going ahead with costly fabrication. Recently the speed of this process has increased and the cost decreased, saving time and money in the initial stages of product development. Beyond prototyping, 3D printing allows organizations to test products in the market before committing to production. Today Ford is printing brand new molds in four days at costs of approximately $4,000.
Prior to 3D printing, this process would typically require six months and hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s no wonder Ford will be partnering with startup Carbon3D going forward. The benefit to smaller companies is enormous, reducing the financial burden of invention.
Production & Customization
Another benefit of 3D printing is the ability to produce lower volumes without risking profits. While regular manufacturing methods would require a large number of items produced and sold to recover the costs of the machinery and molds created, 3D printing requires no such commitment. And customization is simpler, quicker, and cheaper.
3D scanning and design allow for a greater level of modification in individual products, and the consumer benefits of this customization are generally accepted as worthy of premium prices.
Inventory & Spare Parts
3D printing gives organizations the options of creating virtual inventories. Instead of manufacturing in advance and storing for future sales, both product and spare part designs can be kept in computer databases for production as required. This strategy both reduces physical space requirements and increases product lifetimes. Because spare parts need only be stored in design formats, organizations are able to offer replacement parts many years after initial production has ceased. Notably, both aerospace and defense sectors are adopting 3D printing technology for smoother supply chains.
As 3D printers become more popular, so the costs associated with them decrease. Their use opens up the arenas of invention, and design possibilities become all the more probable. Capital required to test ideas is decreased quickly transforming imagined opportunities into physical creations. Instead of redesigning items using outdated methods and designs, organizations can now take advantage of the efficient and accelerated 3D printing techniques which allow the use of revolutionary techniques impossible with other manufacturing methods.
By Jennifer Klostermann