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5 Ways 3D Printing is Responding to Global Change

There are 2 general ways in which 3D printing is responding to the global change
 3D Printed Flute by Objet.
 
 

Objet Ltd

First we see 3D printing enabling consumers to re‐position themselves right at the heart of manufacturing. Second, we see more and more companies engaging across the supply chain.

1. Demand for Online Content is Accelerating

As a response to the growing societal demand to be involved in the development process and a growing demand for personalized production, today we find a plethora of very low cost 3D printing machines for the home and for the educational & maker community. This trend is spurring increasing demand for online ‘iStore’ repositories and libraries where home makers can download and then 3D print an ever increasing array of products. We will also find in the coming years an increasing number of web shops and online web portals where consumers can become co‐creators by engaging directly with their own product designs. The development of home based 3D printing and online data allows consumers to become in effect, mini‐factories, thus compressing the supply chain from the CAD terminal straight to the consumer.

2. Manufacturing is Shifting Back to the Consumer

Until quite late into the industrial revolution people still learned a trade and made products with their own hands. The process was slow, inefficient and relatively unaffordable for the vast majority of people. The industrial revolution brought factories and mass production machines into play to standardize goods and ensure a cheap supply of products to meet the burgeoning demand of European citizens. Today, now that mass produced goods are largely attainable, we see a rebounding trend back to more individually‐designed goods. This trend is a result of the ‘squeeze’ from both the societal move to mass customization and personalization on the one side; and the economic times we now find ourselves in, where the high capital investment required for mass production is prohibitively expensive for many entrepreneurs to set up on their own. One positive response being enabled by 3D printing is the ‘Quirky’ business model – named for the New York‐based firm founded by entrepreneur Ben Kaufman. Quirky’s business model is based on the principle that traditional manufacturing is becoming increasingly above and beyond the reach of everyday designers and entrepreneurs.

In traditional manufacturing plants it can take anywhere between 18 to 24 months of planning and capital investment before a new product actually rolls off the production lines and into shops. This process effectively raises the barrier to entry for people who may have a new innovative idea and who want to turn these ideas into a commercial product within a reasonable time to market.

With an in‐house 3D printer, Quirky is able to shorten and simplify the product development process and enable people with good product ideas to be able to rapidly and efficiently create working prototypes that can be held and tested, thus eliminating a major stumbling block in the way of bringing their product to market. Today Quirky designs and develops a number of new consumer products from scratch every single week. The Quirky model is a natural response to the economic pressures of today’s downturn, the demographic changes that represent new opportunities in both home and foreign markets, and societal changes that are pressuring the way we consume resources.

The implications of the Quirky model for Western national economies may also be significant in the years ahead. If the deepening of the recession continues to hit manufacturing capacity, 3D printing may be able to offset some of the loss by bypassing the traditional capital‐intensive process, enabling the speedy development of a wide range of innovative products. The value & differentiation here in both the ‘iStore’ trend and the Quirky trend is in the content and the development of user communities of designers and innovators who are now able to produce for themselves. In both cases, 3D printing represents the hardware enabler – the consumer value is in the fast and relatively easy realization of a new idea into a working prototype and even real product.

3. More Companies are Engaging Across the Supply Chain

We will increasingly see 3D printing as an enabler for companies to engage across the supply chain. 3D printing will increasingly be used as a distribution solution where parts are made to order, without the need to hold stock near to the consumer. This is having a profound impact already in the small number of application areas using 3D printing on a daily basis such as lamp shades and iPhone covers. With the rise of 3D printing service bureaus, and now even Cloud‐based 3D printing services, making parts on‐demand and nearer to the consumer will continue to make supply chains increasingly lean and efficient in the coming years. The potential benefits of this tool‐less and inventory‐free supply chain include lower material consumption, less waste, lower carbon footprint, reduced capital investment, mitigated risk, and the ability to easily differentiate your product from the rest.

4. Desktop 3D Printers are Proliferating in Office Environments

We can expect an expanding penetration of desktop 3D printers into more offices and smaller offices thanks to the rapidly increasing capabilities of the models available today. While the larger, more complex 3D printers will continue to be a natural part of a centralized  prototyping lab in virtually every large manufacturing company, the rise of the desktop 3D printer – imbued with increasingly similar levels of accuracy and producing comparable 3D models to the industrial size machines, will become more and more defused through the many smaller firms and boutique design houses.

Desktop 3D printers are becoming ever‐more affordable and advanced in their accuracy & resolution quality and in their ability to suitably simulate the fit and form of parts and products envisioned by designers and engineers. They also offer today a greater range and versatility of materials than ever before.

The Objet30 desktop 3D printer for example offers a range of 5 different 3D printing materials, including different opaque shades and a polypropylene‐like material for prototyping snap‐fit parts. The plethora of professional‐level desktop 3D printers available for under $50,000 is rapidly expanding, placing fast and professional rapid prototyping capabilities at the service of virtually any design house or small engineering firm.

The resulting rise of the professional desktop machine is a game changer for smaller firms – providing better risk mitigation in an era of scarcer investment capital, faster innovation cycles, better communication within the supply chain and overall lead‐time compression. This will enable companies on one side of the world to respond agilely to the plethora of new demographic and consumer group opportunities on other sides of the world – for example, in the newly emerging markets of Asia and South America. Those companies with their own 3D printing capabilities will be able to develop an edge – enabling them to compete with much large multi‐nationals when it comes to rapidly transforming ideas into working products.

5. High-End 3D Printing Capabilities Will Continue to Exponentially Improve

Today’s high end 3D printers have improved exponentially over the last decade. For an example, Objet’s original Quadra Tempo released in 2000 delivered 20 micron print layers (a game changer in its day), featured 1536 jet nozzles in 4 print heads, based in a single block and the machine printed one material, known in its time as M510. Compare this to the latest Objet260 Connex delivering double the print quality from just half the number of print nozzles, at a significantly higher run speed – and in a machine with half the footprint.

In place of just one material, today’s machine features a choice of 68 different materials with ranging properties from opaque to transparent, rigid to flexible, and standard to engineering plastics. It can also combine up to 14 different material properties and color shades within a single model prototype. So not only are 3D printers becoming more capable, but the range and mechanical properties of 3D printing materials, especially for inkjet based technology, is expanding exponentially.

These developments are working to constantly reduce the price of 3D printed components, compress lead times and expand the range and functionalities of 3D printed parts. The result of all this is that advanced 3D printers are becoming a must‐have fixture within every large product development company from the automotive sector to electronic goods and household appliances. Manufacturers will be able in future to cut out much of their secondary tooling processes such as injection molding, resin tooling and soft tooling. And all of this will go into helping them compress their time to market, reduce their costs and also reduce the burden they place on the environment.

Conclusion

When faced with the rapid pace of change in the years ahead, 3D printing represents a potent device, one that could mitigate many of the structural challenges of our economies and societies, allowing more businesses to compete and take advantage of developing opportunities around the world. The growth of personal manufacturing and online content in itself has the potential to re‐invent whole economies. Bolstered by the emergence of the ‘Quirky’ model, 3D printing may bring a level of self‐sufficiency back in the face of scarcer resources, greater ethical consumerism, more demand for personalization, shifting demographics and new centers of wealth.

3D printing has the potential to help offset the decline in Western manufacturing, replacing the top heavy ‘too big to fail’ model with a lighter, more agile and more evenly spread production base providing higher added value. Such a model puts innovation back into the hands of more citizenry – and could spur a new round of global and technological innovations leading to a new, grassroots prosperity. While perhaps still a shadowy vision, the vision is being rapidly animated by the increasing capabilities of 3D printing itself ‐ lower prices, more advanced prototyping capabilities, smaller machines and a greater range of 3D printing materials than ever before.

With all of the trends taken together, it’s a safe bet to assume that the future of product design and development will look very different a decade hence. But rather than frighten, this knowledge should help to invigorate entrepreneurs and businesses into renewed action. 3D printing will help by becoming an essential component in leveling the product development playing field ‐ enabling every company to leverage the most from the opportunities that are coming to the fore even now, as we speak.

Objet Ltd., is a leading provider of high quality, cost effective inkjet‐based 3D printing systems and materials. A global company, Objet has offices in North America, Europe, Japan, China, Hong Kong, and India.

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