Ways 3D printing impacts the manufacturing industry
As the price of 3-D printers decline and the technology advances, on-demand manufacturing moves from concept to reality. Here are some ways 3-D printing looks to impact the manufacturing industry moving forward.
Creating a prototype has always been a costly venture. Not only is it necessary to get a designer with the right skills, you also have to create the tool or mold. This can be an expensive process unless you produce the item on a large scale. For example, a mold that costs $100,000 to create may produce a part that sells for $1. It would only pay for itself if you manufactured more than 100,000 parts. Companies that may only need 500 or 2,000 parts couldn’t justify such a production run. Alternatively, a 3-D printer eliminates almost all setup costs. The prototype can be inexpensively created and, once approved, the same system can produce the item whether you need 100,000 or 500.
Where this type of savings really comes into play is with customized features. Ford Motor Company acknowledges that making molds for unique pieces would have never made sense in the past. It was just too expensive to create something for a single use. Now, they are testing the idea. In the near future, it may be possible to see a Ford coming off the famed production line that does not look like anything else on the road. Aesthetic upgrades and made-to-order parts created with an affordable 3-D printer is something founder Henry Ford never could have imagined but may become possible very soon.
Quicker product development
The “old-fashioned” way of creating a prototype can be time-intensive. Typically, CAD designs would have to be transformed into the three-dimensional product. This is what the outdoor footwear company, Timberland, did for years. The process would take at least a week or more. Using a 3-D printer, the same process now takes only 90 minutes. Because time equals money, the impact was immediately clear. By reducing the time from seven or more days to an hour and a half, a prototype that previously cost $1,200 to make was produced in-house for only $35 dollars.
Companies looking for a quick production turnaround time may find 3-D printing to be the magic bullet they need to move succeed. For example, British sportscar racing team, Strakka Racing, was not only able to craft the parts they needed for their cars, they did it a breakneck speed. Dan Walmsley, team principal, said, “We were making pieces trackside.”
Creating prototypes and parts is one thing, but the tools needed to create these items have historically been made by offsite third parties. Now, 3-D printing allows companies to custom make whatever tools they need to produce their own new products.
This step is a game-changer in the industry. If a tool is misplaced or broken, it won’t take weeks to get production going again. It can be made in-house and put back in the machine almost immediately. Also, in the past, it was often not possible to buy just a single tool. Manufacturers had to buy in bulk. 3-D printing allows the creation of small volumes, which does not just save time; it can save 40 to 90 percent of the cost.
Further, manufacturers may find that they do not need an expensive metal part. Creating a plastic part that is lighter and more efficient can also add to the cost savings.
Companies looking to advance themselves in the marketplace should consider all the benefits a 3-D printer may bring them. Manufacturing has always been about “more”: more volume, more runs, more orders. Investing in a 3-D printer can get help increase “more” even more.