3D printing technology has progressed substantially over recent years transforming from something that was almost always used for prototyping to now being mentioned by many as the manufacturing technology of the future. 3D printing provides users with a fast, cost-effective way to produce parts that trump traditional production methods. Adding even more to this, 3D printing produces assemblies as one whole part, compared to conventional methods where assemblies have to be printed into multiple parts and assembled manually.
“The vast majority of those working with 3D printing still don’t see it in a broad enough perspective. They take this component or part that they’ve made for years, and say, ‘What would it take to 3D print it?’ It takes more time and money, and so they say this doesn’t work for us,” explained Jack Heslin, the President and Vice President of Business Development at both 3DTechTalks and Lazarus3D, to Design News. “But they’re not redesigning their manufacturing to take advantage of 3D printing. If they do, they might find that what was 100 parts will be 10 parts or less. That will affect their time-to-market, their accounting, their cost, everything.”
Heslin provided that many manufacturers are behind the curve with additive manufacturing and are missing out on its many advantages. “3D printing is still new enough that most companies don’t see how it could fit in with their production. We’re still learning about the implications of additive manufacturing,” he said. “If you are redoing your component to go from 50 parts to 10 parts, everything gets impacted—the shipping, the warehouse, it all changes. In 10 or so years, the impact will be monumental.”
In addition to both reducing part count in assemblies and producing parts faster and cheaper, 3D printing is also very beneficial to inventory. Rather than stocking parts and wasting valuable warehousing space, 3D printing essentially provides users with an on-demand inventory.
“Many companies are not talking about their inventory and balance sheet,” explained Heslin. “You make something, and you put it in a box, and the box goes on a pallet, then on a boat, and it goes halfway around the world into a warehouse or onto a retail shelf.” With AM, much of the supply chain can be reduced because stored inventory isn’t necessary.
Additive manufacturing also gives companies the ability to use their other equipment for other things.
“If you start to produce 3D print spare parts only as they are needed, it may free up the machine to do new work for new customers,” said Heslin. “3D printing might take longer and may be more expensive, but your capital equipment will be freed up for other work. Then you get into managerial decisions and strategic decisions on how to use it.”
3D printing greatly reduces the design cycle with its speedy prototyping, too.
According to Heslin, “This will also impact the product’s marketing. Most of the sales people don’t know how their products are going to change until the change happens. But the speed of the prototyping will change the time to market. Now, you can print something overnight or in a few days and change it. You can turn weeks, sometimes months, into a few days.”