Our CEO, Karl, recently added a 3D printer to the many tools available to us at QAD. As part of our emphasis on innovation at work, employees have been encouraged to design and print projects. We’ve seen a number of things come off the printer, from cubicle plaques to iPhone docks, and even some trophies for a recent RC car racing event. We’ve proved that a 3D printer can be fun, and even useful at work, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 3D printing goes far beyond printed tchotchkes for your friends and co-workers. 3D printing has the potential to disrupt the manufacturing industry. Just as the assembly line made automobiles available to the masses for the first time, 3D printing will be able to reach a wider audience that requires a uniquely tailored item to meet their needs. By learning more about 3D printing, the ultimate lean manufacturing process, you can prepare to retool your perspective.
3D Printing in the Life Sciences and Automotive Industries
3D printing, or more formally Additive Manufacturing, is being used to create prototypes and bring solutions to those that need it most. Amazing items are being manufactured. Forbes describes the creation of printed organs using a patient’s cells. Creating organ material can improve the health and lower mortality rates of patients waiting for transplants. General Motors and Ford Motor Company have both used Additive Manufacturing to create fast prototypes of parts of their vehicles. With the right data, materials and tools, it appears that practically anything could be made via 3D printing.
The Benefits of Additive Manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing has been in use for over a decade. A 2014 PWC survey noted in Forbes showed that 11% of manufacturing companies had changed to using Additive Manufacturing for volume production of parts or products. These trends are expected to rise. The potential for volume production is necessary to explore for the manufacturer. Additive Manufacturing may be a useful addition to how products are made, thus manufacturing will be influenced by the growing use of 3D printing.
3D printers are a form of ‘additive’ manufacturing. Such a process requires less raw material and is a cost-saving benefit to implementation. No cutting and drilling is necessary — changes can be made on the spot. The software involved allows customization without retooling. The granular specificity is a compelling feature, as well as, not having to wait to buy additional tools to change a product to meet customer demands.
A/B testing of products is also faster and cheaper than ever before. With the ability to rapidly print products, manufacturers can quickly test similar designs for usability or effectiveness prior to formalizing the final design. With today’s emphasis on design this give an agile platform for manufacturers to stay competitive.
Additive Manufacturing is democratizing manufacturing. As production costs dramatically decrease the cost of entry to manufacturing unique products will enable smaller businesses to complete by being agile and innovative. This will drive opportunities and markets. Entrepreneurs can create products and perform sample runs without needing the assistance of a mass-producer. The market opens wide for those with bright ideas.
Reducing the use of raw materials, viewing market response to multiple reiterations of products, encouraging entrepreneurship, and delivering products completely customized to an individual’s body and specific needs — all of these reasons and more make for motivation to understand and try out 3D printing. 3D printing as a form of Additive Manufacturing is real. It’s being used and manufacturers are already incorporating it into their processes. Get a jump on the competition and research how 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing can work for your organization. You might also want to think about purchasing a compact or desktop-sized printer to test ideas and get your team’s creative juices flowing. Let us know if you’re already using 3D printing at your company — we’d love to hear about it!