4 things manufacturers should know about 3D printing

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3D printing is being adopted in a big way by businesses across the world: what are the key things to bear in mind when adopting the tchnology .

Long thought of as a bit of a gimmick and a threat to jobs, 3D printing is being adopted in a big way by businesses across the world, with $26.7 billion expected to be spent on the technology in 2019.

For companies with innovation at their core, it has revolutionised the speed of iterative design, allowing them to get products to market much quicker than before.

In the past few weeks alone, Rolls-Royce has announced plans to 3D print aerospace parts, as it continues to increase its investment in additive manufacturing. Meanwhile, global manufacturing services company Jabil has announced plans to establish a new 3D printing centre of excellence in the US at a cost or around US$42 million.

It’s clear that manufacturers are not doing things in half measures when it comes to 3D printing, having recognised the competitive edge it can give them. If you’re considering joining them by adopting the technology, here are four things you should bear in mind:

1. Put a focus on speed and customisation

We’ve already touched on how 3D printing allows manufacturers to significantly reduce lead times – not only that, it also enables mass customisation. Mass customisation gives manufacturers the opportunity to boost revenue, demonstrate distinctive value and get closer to their customers.

One-size-fits-all doesn’t appeal to today’s consumers. “Off-the-shelf” is beginning to sound substandard, as consumers demand products that are personalised and made to order. Prior to 3D printing, manufacturers were struggling to find a way to deliver on consumer expectations in a fast and cost-efficient fashion.

2. Quality control can be a challenge

Although the benefits of 3D printing far would appear to outweigh the drawbacks, there are challenges that the technology brings. Top of those challenges is quality control.

In the latest ‘State of 3D Printing’ report from Sculpteo, nearly half of the enterprises questioned said that quality control represented their top challenge having adopted the technology. This is relative to the increased use of 3D printing, which inevitably makes it more difficult to keep on top of QC.

3. Money can be saved on spare parts

The downside of having built a reputation for designing and building machinery that stays in use for decades is that manufacturers are forced to spend heavily on keeping massive inventories of spare parts on hand, ready for delivery in the event of a customer wanting to prolong the life of a purchase.

But those overhead-heavy inventories, which live out their lives sat in a warehouse with little purpose, could soon be a thing of the past thanks to 3D printing.  Why would you keep a replacement part when you could print it on demand?

4. Equipment breakdown can be extremely damaging

With an increasing reliance on 3D printing – 80% of the high tech manufacturing respondents in Sculpteo’s study said they now rely on 3D printing for prototyping – the risk and potential cost of equipment breaking down becomes greater.

This puts more of an importance on equipment maintenance (one of the top challenges noted by respondents) and forces manufacturers to think about mitigating their risk with the relevant insurance cover.

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