American manufacturers should expect to see numerous benefits from 3D printing as the technology continues to improve and printing costs decrease. While large printers capable of running thousands of parts in a day are still costly, the smaller counterparts are becoming very affordable. It may soon be considered more expensive not to have a 3D printer on site.

Impact on Research and Design

The ability to create prototypes quickly, and at a lower cost, means that designers can produce more prototypes in variations that allow for differences in testing. Overall product quality should improve and variations in designs can lead to greater variety in products being offered.

Quick prototyping gets the products to the market faster, giving manufacturers and investors a quicker return on their investment. If problems are found in a design, the issues can be corrected before excess time and money are put into the development. Manufacturers will become willing to try new ideas, which can bring about great advances in technology.

Fender Musical Instruments previously outsourced 3D prototyping. While the company saw benefits, changing to in-house prototyping with 3D printing allows the company to produce a design overnight, instead of the former two-week wait.(1)

Reduced Production Costs With Improved Output

As research and design becomes faster, production costs for products will drop. Reduced costs improve the bottom line for manufacturers. Output in manufacturing should also increase, as quality issues become less of a problem. Any idea will have already been thoroughly tested before it goes into full production.

With access to 3D printers, small manufacturers will begin to be able to compete on the same playing field as large manufacturers.

Output and profit margins also improve with less waste. Prabhjot Singh, a manager with GE Global Research, estimates that traditional manufacturing wastes up to 70 percent of purchased materials.(2) These materials are discarded during production. Using 3D printers produces almost no waste.

Lighter and Stronger

Manufacturers are finding that materials used in 3D printing can produce better products. Graphene is one of the revolutionary materials that may dramatically affect many industries. Parts produced with graphene are stronger while also being lighter.

This can have an enormous impact on several industries including automotive, defense and aviation. These industries are looking for ways to increase strength without adding weight. Parts that are lighter can improve fuel efficiency. The more graphene parts that can be used, the greater the efficiency.

Design Security

American manufacturers have been facing security risks when outsourcing prototyping. Sending designs and ideas to other companies, especially overseas, opens up the opportunity for copies to enter the market. These copies can often be produced quickly, and as lower cost knock-offs, the original manufacturer loses greatly on the investment made into the new product.

The area of concern when it comes to design and 3D printing is in intellectual property rights. This is an issue that will need to be addressed as the technology expands.(3)

Smaller Companies and Entrepreneurs

Small companies often have a difficult time competing with large manufacturing corporations. Smaller enterprises do not always have the facilities or budgets available to be cost effective in product. With access to 3D printers, these companies will begin to be able to compete on the same playing field.

In The Spotlight

Entrepreneurs will find creating, manufacturing and bringing new ideas to the market an easier process. The idea that previously took thousands of dollars and months to create will become a reality quickly.

Reshoring

American manufacturers are bringing production back to the U.S. Reshoring or “nearshoring” are becoming a less expensive choice. Increases in 3D printing capabilities will allow for more manufacturing stateside at lower costs than production overseas. Smaller manufacturing plants can be developed and plants can be located near the end user of the product.

Tooling, Molding and One Offs

Tooling and molding without 3D printing can take weeks to months for working results. By using 3D printers, tools, jigs and fixtures can be created in house quickly and at a lower cost.

Hard-to-find replacement parts could become a thing of the past. As long as a design is available, the product or part can be printed. This will be beneficial to manufacturers that need to replace an unusual part to keep production equipment running. It will also benefit the general consumer with the ability to request an unusual, customized design element.

For example, the automotive industry is one that can be greatly impacted by parts that are no longer available or are in short supply. Instead of waiting months to locate a part required for a restoration product, a supply store can simply request a printed part. Consumers that want truly personalized features on a new car can have a manufacturer incorporate a one-of-a-kind design specifically for the individual.

Footnotes: 1. http://www.manufacturing.net/articles/2014/04/how-3d-printing-is-revolutionizing-manufacturing. 2. http://searchmanufacturingerp.techtarget.com/feature/GE-takes-3-D-metal-printing-to-new-heights. 3. http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/How-3D-printing-impacts-manufacturing.
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Steve Erickson
About The Author Steve Erickson
Steve Erickson is Vice President of Sales and Engineering at First American Plastic, a molding enterprise located in South Beloit, IL that provides injection molding and 3D printing services to the manufacturing industry.




www.firstamericanplastic.com


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