Computers and information systems are an integral part of the modern world, making companies that successfully use digital technologies more competitive than those that are lagging in their “digital maturity.” By applying new digital technologies to their production cycles, top-notch industrial enterprises can improve product quality and reduce its cost.
Opportunities, prospects, and restrictions of 3D printing
Additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, is a relatively new production technology and one of the most popular areas of research in applied science today. The essence of 3D printing is producing products through layer-by-layer overlaying of a material based on a three-dimensional digital model. The production material (plastics, glass, ceramics, and even metal) and the method of applying layers (for example, laser sintering or jet casting), may vary. However, any 3D product manufacturing begins with three-dimensional digital modeling.
The first 3D printers were used mainly to create product prototypes, and today’s producers still face a number of technological and economic constraints. Nevertheless, 3D printing is a revolutionary technology capable of replacing such standard methods as molding, casting, and milling.
The advantages of 3D printing for different industries
One of the distinctive advantages of 3D printing is that a manufacturer can create a new product without purchasing additional equipment or manufacturing a new form. The additive-manufacturing process allows the same machine to create an unlimited number of a wide variety of products just by changing its digital model.
It can also transform how manufacturers usually make products today, in a centralized factory that makes and distributes uniform products, to local facilities that can produce customized products without increasing cost or creation time.
The ability to “mass customize” a product without increasing its price is very attractive for many industries, including the automotive industry. This technology could give Western automakers a competitive advantage against low-cost international manufacturers by, for example, 3D printing a customer’s specifications for a car body design without having to spend additional time or money on equipment or forms.
Medicine is another great example. Patients’ different physiological characteristics complicate manufacturing of hearing aids, prostheses, and similar medical devices and equipment. Today these products are usually made by hand by highly skilled specialists. Meanwhile, 3D printing can dramatically reduce the production costs due to its high accuracy and ability to easily customize a design.
3D printing and its influence on product supply
- Flexible supply chain. The manufacturer produces a product under the needed requirements and volume on the basis of the current market situation, trying to realize all the work as soon as possible to reduce production time. Because the 3D printer can produce any type of complex detail, manufacturers can create a number of product variations in one place, reducing time and resources invested, because production can begin immediately after changing the digital model.
- Lean supply chain. The 3D printing manufacturing system is focused on reducing time and resource losses. This is another reason producing all the necessary parts in one location is important: for global manufacturers, this means no need for costly export-import transactions.
Another typical problem of traditional production is the production formula “more is less,” which forces manufacturers to produce as many products as possible to reduce the costs of one product. Additive manufacturing eliminates this issue because every product is created from scratch, without using any additional tools or forms. Manufacturers can produce only as many products as they need.
Problems of 3D printing
There are three main problems with 3D printing: a limited size of parts due to the size of the 3D machine, the relatively high cost of these machines, as well as the high cost of powdered materials that are the resource for manufacturing. Nevertheless, the solution to all these problems is just a matter of time. The high level of interest in 3D printing, plus its obvious advantages to suppliers and users, means it will soon see widespread use in manufacturing.
Get more insight on 3D printing in How 3D Printing Will Disrupt Manufacturing.
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