3D printing has come a long way in a very short time. Developed by Charles Hull in the 1980s to make basic objects from polymer, 3D printing technology has spurred a number of technological advances over the last decade.
Everything from 3D printed automobiles and aircraft to human organs and advanced prosthetics have been created with 3D printing technology.
But, perhaps the biggest advance 3D printing has brought us is the resurgence of small manufacturers that can compete with industrial giants, at the local level, in a more cost effective way.
3D Printing Possibilities
“Our current model of producing goods is built around large-scale, globally linked manufacturing facilities with massive, complex lines of supply and delivery. What happens when 3-D printers overtake current models in terms of speed and cost effectiveness, allowing goods to be custom made for little cost by localized manufacturing hubs?” said Ed Bernstein and Ted Farrington, of the Industrial Research Institute, to HBR.
If, as Bernstein and Farrington suggest, 3D printing leads to two separate forms of production, small manufacturers will be able to enter the market with new products – using their customers as beta testers for the viability of the new products. Established brands will become premium products.
Although that is in the future, some of the key factors in manufacturing are going through large changes due to the rise of 3D printing. Some of the most prominent changes include:
Manufacturers, from small one-man shops up to multinational industrial firms, have shifted the emphasis of 3D printing from one-off prototypes to full production runs of products.
By allowing manufacturing to be done locally, 3D printing is shortening supply and distribution chains. Local manufacturing, replaced by large assembly-line factory hubs (i.e., Detroit for auto manufacturing or Seattle for aircraft construction), can be done anywhere that a supply of raw materials can be shipped.
No longer tied to assembly lines, 3D printing allows large and complex objects to be created with minimal manpower.
In addition to these changes, many established manufacturers will have to change the way they do business.
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