It is no longer news that Additive manufacturing—fondly known as 3D printing—has become one of the trusted means of producing items today. And as with most popular trends, there comes a time of stagnation when a lack of innovation begins to hamper growth. The field of 3D printing is slowly but surely getting to its stagnation period due to little or no inventions in its community in recent times.
Today, I believe everyone now knows the major benefits of 3D printing such as speeding up manufacturing processes, time-to-market, mitigating risk, personalization etc. But in this post, we will attempt to make these benefits industry specific in order to note how they can bring about innovation to these industries as well as the 3D printing community.
Additive Manufacturing can Balance Sliding Prices
Using the lighting industry as an example, statistics showed that in 2015, the expected demand for LED backlights and other fixtures from the commercial and domestic front fell short of 2014’s predictions which led to sliding selling prices of LED chips and packages worldwide. In many cases, the material cost of assembling LED packages ended up been too close to the assembled product thereby drastically reducing the profit margins of both manufacturers and wholesale vendors.
As of 2017, the situation appears to be no different due to the fact that Chinese manufacturers have continued to flood the market with LED packages, resulting in reduced selling prices. To tackle the scourge of lower prices and a Chinese takeover, western vendors are turning to other manufacturing processes with the aim of reducing production cost. Additive manufacturing otherwise known as 3D printing has emerged as a viable manufacturing technique with the ability to drastically reduce production cost while maximizing profits despite sliding ASPs.
The example of CADDEDGE, an electronics design and manufacturing firm, highlights the role of 3D printing in developing cheaper packages. This electronics firm developed LED light pipes in approximately 35 minutes and an expenditure of $20. Thereby saving the hundreds of dollars traditional CNC cutting and manufacturing process costs. 3D printing is here to stay and its integration in the LED industry will play an important role in reducing production costs and spearheading innovation in the lighting sector.
Simplifying Generic Manufacturing in the Automotive Sector
Another industry which has remained static for over a decade is the design of components in the automotive industry. Over the years, manufacturing processes such as CNC machining, metal casting, stamping and forging. On average, these manufacturing techniques take a couple of days and multiple man-hours to get a single component completed. In other cases, automotive manufacturers attempt to cut cost by outsourcing the production of these components to third-parties in order to save cost and time.
One can only imagine the logistics nightmares that will occur if the third-party is unable to meet its delivery dates or when manufactured components—that took days to create—do not function as expected. Here is where the manufacturing abilities of a 3D printer comes in. Integrating the use of a 3D printer as well as computer-aided design tools can help automotive manufacturers develop prototypes cheaply and with ease. And once a prototype has been scrutinized and judged as a successful venture, the same manufacturing settings can be employed time and time again to churn out numerous generic components for the automotive industry.
Recognizing these benefits, a majority of established automotive manufacturers have turned to 3D printing to make car components as well as assembly tools to increase overall efficiency. The example of Ford motors showcases the room for innovation and growth when 3D printing is employed. In March 2017, the automotive giants announced that it had successfully created and integrated 3D printed parts in its sports cars. The success of this venture has also led it to consider using 3D printing in the manufacturing of other complex components for its mass-produced vehicles.
3D Printing Speeding-up Innovation in the Fashion Industry
In many circles, the techniques needed to create fashionable clothing is seen as art which means the use of a 3D printer to manufacture clothing is an art form. The fashion industry also happens to be one of those industrial niches caught-up in an innovative time-loop. The renowned designers of the day now rely on re-introducing styles from the 60s, 70s and 80s to keep their catalogs fresh. This has left the industry in a rut which the introduction of 3D printed fashion items could alleviate.
Hybridization—the process of integrating 3D printed materials with knitted patterns—is expected to change the way designers and tailors approach design. And at the Met Costume institute of 2016, the benefits of using 3D printing as a springboard for innovation was visible in the costumes on display. Couture dresses at the event were manufactured through 3D printing at relatively low costs. According to observers at the event, the cost of producing the 3D printed couture costumes was much cheaper than traditional means of tailoring.
Today, a material problem still hampers the use of 3D printers as fashion design devices due to the lack of domestic printers with the ability to print fabric. This, in turn, raises the challenge of developing such 3D printers by the 3D printing community. Therefore, additive manufacturing’s role in innovating the fashion industry could also see a host of innovations occur in the 3D printing community. This is due to the fact that companies –like MakerBot, Airwolf etc. — must rise to the challenge of developing 3D printers with the ability to print fabric.
3D Printing Helps Startups Fail Fast and Fail Cheap
Not every startup will attain the ‘unicorn status’ or even raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in a few months. Therefore for the small startup been run from the average garage, the ability to develop prototypes and test their capabilities as quickly as possible without blowing an imaginary budget is key. And this is where 3D printing as a manufacturing technique can come in.
The hardware start-up industry is one that has noticed the benefits that 3D printing has to offer in terms of speedy prototyping and failing fast so as to re-innovate quickly. The average 3D printer—MakerBot 2X or Replicator—can easily be put to work using cheap filaments or material feeds to make an inventor or an entrepreneur’s dreams come through.
Many startups have used additive manufacturing to great effect and the example of Food Ink puts a face to it. In 2015, Food Ink was set-up to provide diners with a complete 3D eating experience. In order to do this, the company makes use of a 3D printer to create virtually everything you see in the restaurant including the food. With the aid of 3D printing, it has created unique furniture pieces, plates, cutleries and the food for its customers across Europe. The story of Food Ink is just one of the many startups that currently makes use of additive manufacturing to innovate quickly and cheaply in their industrial niches.
As a Collaborative Tool in Manufacturing
The world of computer-aided design (CAD) has always been closely intertwined with that of 3D printing and one of the advantages they provide is a collaborative environment for manufacturers. There is a multitude of CAD applications that now serve as accessories to 3D printers due to the need for 3D models before moving to the printing stage. CAD tools that integrate building information modeling systems that ensure manufacturers design, test and deploy complete designs to be 3D printed. This simplifies the entire process of manufacturing by ensuring everyone involved with the process—designers, contractors and employers—are on the same page during production.
Recognizing the need for a streamlined manufacturing process most of the established producers of 3D printers now offer native CAD applications for their printing devices. This will allow manufacturers quickly create printable designs and upload them to the corresponding 3D printer through one collaborative ecosystem. Some examples of 3D printer-parent companies that offer these streamlined options include; RepRap, TinkerCAD, MakerBot etc.
The advantages of 3D printing to the world are one that cannot be overstated and with ongoing advances in the field of additive manufacturing, these benefits will only continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Now, just about anyone can benefit from owning a 3D printer. Individuals interested in making their own items for personal use, solo-entrepreneurs looking to break into the manufacturing market as well as established businesses, have a lot to gain from the revolution that is 3D printing.