As manufacturing evolves, so have expectations around how businesses produce and deliver their goods to market.
In fact, as countries across the region race to adopt Industry 4.0 solutions and practices to address increasing time-to-market pressures and shrinking product lifecycles, or product customization, many may assume that digital is the default.
However, the picture of the global manufacturing landscape reveals a different reality.
Legacy design systems have not always kept pace with the ever-evolving demands of business, resulting in high costs, loss in potential revenue, and inefficiencies for the businesses and people who depend on them.
To this end, seamless, cost-effective and interoperable solutions such as ‘Additive Manufacturing’ – more commonly known as 3D printing – can create a critical competitive advantage for manufacturers seeking to streamline the manufacturing process and deliver better value to their business partners, both large and small.
3D printing has already demonstrated success as a tool for rapid prototyping, considering the dazzling array of products it has brought to life, from nanoscale metal systems, and building infrastructure, to human body parts and even everyday items like pens and clothes.
The possibilities for Additive Manufacturing are endless, and are set to multiply as technology advances.
Perhaps this can serve as a clarion call for businesses and suppliers seeking to lead and redefine the ways products make their way to the end user. It is common wisdom that companies must innovate or risk falling behind. As more companies adopt newer, game-changing solutions to keep ahead, the margin for competition widens and becomes increasingly cutthroat.
Let us take a look at how 3D printing can help businesses win market advantage in today’s increasingly complex manufacturing landscape.
Business-focused and business-ready
If you ask any business owner about what they expect from a manufacturing partner, speed, reliability and cost-savings would be the most common answers.
Additive manufacturing technologies can seamlessly and efficiently meet all three needs. They enable businesses to avoid expensive production tools, and accelerate production through rapid prototyping techniques.
It also allows manufacturers to test multiple iterations quickly and efficiently, which in turn, allows them to allocate and enjoy economies of scale more efficiently.
Yet, despite the immense potential that 3D printing brings, its deployment for manufacturing applications remains nascent, due to perceptions about cost.
In a recent study, Jabil noted that only 29% of surveyed manufacturers currently use 3D printing to produce production parts.
To demonstrate 3D printing’s readiness for mainstream manufacturing, Jabil expedited the production of HP’s Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printing System after confirming that many of the printer’s components could be 3D printed cost-effectively, at speed and scale.
The results were remarkable. HP and Jabil were able to accelerate the product design cycle, achieving 19 product iterations in the time it took to create one iteration using traditional manufacturing processes. Moreover, they could reproduce a US$20 printer part for US$6, while providing a 70% weight reduction for each part.
Enhancing the sum of all parts
The benefits of 3D printing transcend the walls of the factory and design center. Digital at its core, it provides manufacturers with a critical opportunity to distribute manufacturing in a way that that reduces shipping, and generates a positive environmental impact.
With additive manufacturing, where the only products sent are data files, a digital thread runs through the supply chain, eliminating friction and enabling operation at a new, greater speed.
Businesses can begin production as soon as they receive an order, even if it is unique and requires customization.
This could dramatically transform the manufacturing footprint. Taking Jabil as an example, the company currently has more than 100 facilities in 29 countries and, with additive manufacturing, this could become thousands of smaller facilities, each much closer to the end user, in the environments relevant to them.
However, what is truly exciting about 3D printing is the ability that businesses now has to radically redefine the ways they design and deliver products.
Today, manufacturers have the freedom to design parts without the need for draft angles or other constraints of molding or subtractive processes, as well as the potential to design and print sub-assemblies as a single part.
How can this help business? Take the growing trend of personalization for example, where consumers want more bespoke products. That would have been difficult to do with traditional manufacturing, due to the lack of economies of scale.
Today, 3D printing makes products in a lot size of one-to-few – delivering complete flexibility.
For example, shoe manufacturers are already designing insoles that fit one’s unique foot shape and takes into consideration their running style and ability.
In the future, it may be possible for healthcare providers to print custom boots and casts that mold to one’s body perfectly, has the flex for weight and lifestyles, and can be made from a scan of one’s foot in less than 24 hours at the hospital.
Engineering the future
Today, developments in raw materials and equipment are driving additive manufacturing into the mainstream.
However, to ensure that the advantages of 3D printing can be harnessed and realized across the ecosystem, stakeholders must develop common standards that address process pain points and concerns.
One such initiative is the Additive Manufacturing Standards Development Structure, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and ASTM International, a fellow international standards organization.
Nonetheless, as Rome was not built in a day, the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing will not occur overnight.
While most major manufacturers are tapping into these technologies, organizations must plan for their own transformation and development.
However, there is a light at the end of the supply chain. As developments in production speed, reliability and cost-efficiency forge new inroads for additive manufacturing to reach new audiences and stakeholders, the industry will only see continued expansion, with a CAGR of 25.76% over the next five years. Now is the time for businesses to consider, explore and tap into its opportunities.
This article was first published on Questex, on 1 November 2018. Information is correct at the time of publication.