In the world of manufacturing, there is no doubt that 3D printing is very much in vogue. Practically every tech and manufacturing blog has had a story on 3D printing in the past couple of years, and a huge variety of companies now have their own 3D printers including traditional manufacturers, independent shop owners, and artists. Even some public libraries have purchased 3D printers in order to give the public the ability to learn about this technology. You may also come across stores or kiosks in malls and shopping centers where store owners usually sell toys and figurines, often taken from the likeness of3d printing at home the customer.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons behind the surge in popularity of this new technology. If developed in the right way, 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize how we manufacture and sell goods. But with all of the claims that 3D printing is a “manufacturing game-changer,” it’s important that we keep our expectations realistic.

The Good in 3D Printing

Faster Production Cycles

With 3D printing, many of the middle steps in manufacturing process become unnecessary or redundant. Eventually, manufacturing an item could be as simple as entering in a program on your home 3D printer, inserting the raw materials, and assembling your parts when they are finished.

Not only will this make it easier to acquire things as you need them, it will also significantly improve the likelihood that you will have access to whatever you will need, even in remote locations. For example, NASA is currently exploring options in outfitting astronauts with 3D printers that can be used in space. This will allow them to quickly produce a part or tool as they need it, which will ultimately mean that astronauts will have to bring fewer items with them on expeditions.

This also has huge implications for those working in remote areas of the world. Imagine you are a doctor working with a child in Papua New Guinea who has lost her leg. The child may have been getting by with crutches or a wooden limb, but with a 3D printer, you will be able to print out an inexpensive but highly more effective prosthetic limb for her. With the printer established in this location, you will then be able to go on printing many medical devices as you need them for the people you treat on that island.

The Return of American Manufacturing and Innovation

If more people are printing goods in their own homes, countries like China and India will lose their edge as low cost options for American manufacturers. This will likely mean that many of the core processes of manufacturing that will remain will be in-sourced domestic locations.

This will likely give many manufacturers as well as designers and inventors renewed opportunities for innovation. With greater access to materials, and with quicker turn-around on the production of goods, there will be less downtime in the conception of new products. This will give designers and inventors more freedom to experiment with designs and models, and to see the fruits of their labors more quickly.

Less Waste

In many instances, the manufacturing process requires that the manufacturer start with a quantity of a material that is larger than the finished product. The product will be carved or molded from that material, leaving lots of excess material behind. Though there are many strategies for repurposing excess materials in these kinds of situations, it is better to prevent waste than to repurpose it. Because the majority of 3D printing involves the layering of materials, you end up with far less material, if any, to trim away when your object has been printed.

There will also be fewer materials to ship to the manufacturing location. This will prevent accumulation of many of the environmental costs associated with the production of material goods as fewer materials will need to be manufactured in separate locations.

More Options in New Kinds of Objects

With greater freedom in access to materials and more room to experiment with design, manufacturers will have the freedom to experiment with structures and materials that were not previously feasible with the given constraints of older manufacturing technologies. For example, many 3D printed objects on the market today use very thin layers of material, and rely on structures that are mathematically difficult to engineer when using other manufacturing methods. With these obstacles removed, manufacturers will be able to investigate the pros and cons of manufacturing in these ways with more freedom.

In addition, 3D manufacturing enables engineers to design more easily customizable products. This has some fascinating implications for the medical device industry. While some look forward to a day where we will be able to quickly manufacture organ transplants, it would be very exciting simply to see the manufacture of more traditional medical technologies. Right now there are some people who cannot use certain medical devices due to size limitations. For example, the Intrauterine Device might not be available to women with particularly small or large uteruses, or who have not had a baby before. Eventually, the improved customization of manufacturing devices might allow more women to use this highly effective method of birth control.

Disadvantages to the 3D Printing Craze

As with any technology that seems to garner a lot of attention all at once, there is reason to be skeptical of the claims that 3D printing will bring about a manufacturing revolution. Here are just a few reasons that 3D printing might not produce the sudden, rapid industry change than many have predicted.

Feasibility of Use in the Real World

Certainly, if you had a 3D printer in your home, office, or medical mission in the mountains of Ecuador, it would seem that you should face far fewer obstacles in providing important or life-saving devices more quickly and at lower cost. However, it remains to be seen how feasible it will be to actually transport and install 3D printers in all of these locations. For the time being, a 3D printer and its materials can still be quite expensive, and operating one requires some training and technical ability. The CAD software that is most frequently used to design models for printing requires a good level of technical literacy, practice, and experience before a user will be able to print a useful product.

In addition, users of 3D printers will still need to find a way to access the printing material, and while it may eventually be cheaper than purchasing a finished product, for the time being this may still present an obstacle for those trying to install 3D printers in homes and remote locations.

Further, while 3D printing can produce objects more quickly and cheaply than other manufacturing processes, this is still a relative scale. In order to produce one item virtually from start to finish, the printing process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days and can cost thousands of dollars depending on the materials used. Some have noted that as a result, it doesn’t really make sense financially to print anything larger than a baseball, especially on a mass scale.

Lack of Options in Materials and Structural Integrity

Most 3D products made today are composed of a plastic material. Indeed, plastic presents the most options and variability in the manufacturing process and can be used to produce a wide variety of objects. It has also thus far been the easiest material to use to print. Because plastic is not really a suitable material for many objects, we may for the time being be limited on the kinds of objects we can print, which may be limiting in some of the applications that had been envisioned for the 3D printing market. There also may be an increase in cheap replacement products for items that should not be made from plastic.

In addition, though 3D printing may allow designers to model some structurally interesting objects, printed objects tend to have poor structural integrity and most are not yet suitable for projects that require great strength, though advances have been made in printing concrete houses.

Loss of Manufacturing Jobs

With more manufacturing occurring in the home or office, or in single factory locations rather than many, there will likely be a loss of associated manufacturing jobs as positions become redundant. While this tends to be true anytime a new technology is introduced into the manufacturing world, it always causes some alarm as we cannot know in advance the true extent to which these kinds of alternative technologies might put people out of work.

Lack of Protection for Copyrighted or Dangerous Items

With 3D printing, anyone who has the skills to develop a model and gain access to a 3D printer will also have access to that item itself. It is already possible to print out a semi-functional gun using a 3D printer, thereby bypassing the normal background check process that a gun owner must undergo.

Similarly, the owner of a 3D printer might eventually be able to print out an item that is very similar or identical to a copyrighted item. Though this would also be illegal, they could even begin to sell these knock off items. This will make many designers extremely disinclined to release their models, and may lead to some fairly extreme patent laws and enforcement measures.

An Overabundance of Unnecessary Items

3d printing toysIf you have paid any attention to 3D printing in the news, you will have likely noticed that the majority of pictures of 3D printing demonstrate the production of what are effectively toys. Because of the limitations in scope and scale for most 3D printers, there is only a small range of items that can currently be produced. Unless we make some significant advances in our ability to print with other materials, we will not really be able to print much more complicated objects than these toys and accessories.

Energy Consumption

Though 3D printers may mean that many factories will be able to shut down parts of their operations and remove shipping steps, 3D printing still requires a large amount of energy. Because the 3D printing process is quite slow, the printers need to be on and running for hours or days at a time. This can represent a significant energy drain, particularly for a larger printer running a more complex task. This will eventually mean that much of the energy consumption of the manufacturing process is passed off to the consumers and small manufacturers running printers from their homes and offices.

Thoughts on the Drawbacks of 3D Printing

All of the above-listed drawbacks to 3D printing are popular topics in the debate on its efficacy as a new technology. However, it seems that there are a few things that we can safely say about the debate on 3D printing:

On the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960s, they had their fictional replicator technology that materialized food, drink and non-edible objects. Well…now 3D printing is turning fiction into fact. There’s even a 3D printer by MakerBot Industries called the Replicator. Okay, we’re not quite at the Star Trek level yet, but the number of objects we can “print” is quickly growing, and the list includes useful things such as human organs, limbs and even synthetic food including pizza. Chefs probably don’t have to worry about their jobs just yet, as some of this 3D-printed food so far is intended for consumption by astronauts in space — where 30 minutes or free for pizza obviously isn’t an option. As well, 3D printing is in its infancy. In the near future, though, you could very well order something online and have it created in front of you from a home or office 3D printer — not unlike the Star Trek replicator.

If you have followed our blog, we have talked about 3D printing at length covering how with reshoring it’s changing the logistics landscape while boosting the US manufacturing renaissance, how 3D printing will alter the way things are manufactured and of course the impact on the supply chain. Today however we wanted to go a bit more in depth today with more information and a great infographic (and some more information below)!

3D Printing: One Step Closer to a Star Trek Future? [INFOGRAPHIC]

3d printing infographic


What Can You Make With 3D Printing?

The range of items already 3D-printed is quite lengthy. Some are toys, puzzles and trinkets, others are much more functional. They include:

This is just a small list of objects and items 3D-printed so far, but quite possibly the most interesting at least to tech nerds is the ability for a 3D printer to print a 3D printer. Mind blown? One example is the RepRap 3D printer, which costs $500 – $600. As well, in the near future we could be printing any or all of the following, beyond prototypes.

We have also now seen entire houses instead of just parts, where at the University of Southern California there is a large 3D printer that has the capability to build a 2500 sq ft home in 24 hours. And just this week there was the story of how 10 houses were 3D printed in just 24 hours in China.  Other large things that are now being 3D printed:

Why Would Anyone Want to Print Meat and Leather?

Modern Meadow has managed to use bio-ink to 3D-print both synthetic meat and leather. Why? Here are some stats they provide which gives their motivation to 3D print vs. the traditional way to manufacture meat and leather:

As well, if we’re serious about manned Mars missions in the future, being able to print meat, pizza and other foods might be a necessity.

How Does 3D Printing Work?

There are multiple types of 3D printer and the materials used for the actual printing is a factor. However, material states range from powders to viscous fluids to spools of filament to bio-inks and more. While there are three types of 3D printing, all use layering to form objects. One method uses a pool of chemicals and light (UV laser). Another method uses molten “ink” that becomes solid as it is extruded from the print head. In a nutshell, the very generalized process is as follows:

These are just a few options. The next steps then wold include:

In the case of powdered materials, the process appears to be a block of loose powder, but upon completion, excess materials are brushed or vacuumed away to reveal the solid object.

What Materials Can You Use in 3D Printing?

The list of materials already in use in 3D printing might surprise you at the diversity. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

The Market for 3D Printing

3d printing makersChris Anderson, former longtime editor of Wired Magazine and author of several books on technology — including Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — quit journalism to become a 3D entrepreneur. His feeling is that personal 3D printers will be bigger than the Internet in terms of personal impact — allowing us to have our own factories at home, replacing the personal computer printers many households now have. More facts on the 3D printing market:

Several key patents for 3D printing technology expired in Jan 2014, with more expiring later in 2014. What this means is that there is the immediate potential to bring much lower cost 3D printers to consumers. Want speedy delivery of select items? How about “now”?  Have you any experience in the 3D printing world? What are they? Let us know in the comments below!

Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites:

Today we continue our series on 3D printing and the Supply Chain and how it impacts logistics. In the first post in the series, we gave a high level of the outlook on the burgeoning technology of 3D printing and the supply chain and logistics implications. Today we will really go further into this impact to manufacturing and consequently on supply chains. We will continue our series next on the impact of what 3D printing and the supply chain and what it could mean to logistics. As always, we welcome your comments at the end of the article!

The Future Changing Landscape of Manufacturing due to 3D Printing

3d printing in manufacturing and supply chainWho would have thought that modern manufacturing could be done without a factory? Since the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing has been synonymous with factories, machine tools, production lines and economies of scale. So it is startling to think about manufacturing without tooling, assembly lines or supply chains. However, that is what is emerging as as the future of 3D printing services takes hold.

3D printing is making its mark as it reshapes product development and manufacturing and turns individuals, small businesses and corporate departments into “makers.”  Today you can make parts, appliances and tools in a wide variety of materials right from your home or workplace. Using a computer, simply create, modify or download a digital 3D model of an object. Click “print,” just as you would for a document, and watch your physical 3D object take shape. No longer the stuff of science fiction, 3D printing is a new reality.

While this new reality is exciting, it also poses significant questions for the future of how we manufacture goods. Factories will not disappear, but the face of the manufacturing industry will change as new entrants, new products and new materials emerge, and mainstay processes in logistics, like distribution, may no longer be needed. Today’s consumers clamor for customized products and services and for speed of delivery. Yet customization and immediacy, right here, right now (AKA known somewhat as “Just in Time” in the supply chain and logistics world), are not economical with traditional manufacturing processes, which are optimized for large volumes of consistent output in a factory far away. (Now this is a also a driving force for reshoring, as we know, to get factories closer to the customer. Such as the decision for Motorola to put their factory in Forth Worth, Texas to better get customized product to customers.)

3D Printing is truly a game changer in the fields of manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics. 3D printers are being used to economically create custom, improved, and sometimes impossible to manufacture products right where they will be used. A single printer can produce a vast range of products, sometimes already assembled. It’s a factory without a factory floor and it has created a platform for innovation, enabling manufacturing to flourish in uncommon areas and spawning a new generation of DIY manufacturers. The new players, with their innovative process and technology, will disrupt manufacturing as we know it. Economists call the adoption and use of 3D printing the third industrial revolution, following mechanization of the 19th century and assembly-line mass production of the 20th century.

What is the Impact on the Automotive Manufacturing Industries?

For years, major automotive manufacturers have been using 3D printing for prototyping. Howerver, the automotive industry is posed to begin applying the process to more than just prototypes of small custom parts.

3d printing manufacturing supply chainTake for example, the Urbee, billed as the world’s first printed car. The two passenger Urbee, crated by KOR EcoLogic, dismisses preconceptions about limits to 3D printing sizes (also see the 3D printing of a HOUSE – which we found from our good friend Peter Dawson). To be clear, not all parts are 3D prnted, just the shell of this hybrid prototype car, though the interior components are planned to be 3D printed.

Engineers at BMW have leveraged 3D printing to create ergonomic, lighter versions of their assembly tools to increase worker productitivy. By improving the design, workers are carrying 2.9 pounds less and have improved handling and balance.

In addition to ergonomics, another are where 3D printing can make a big difference is marketing. Imagine showing a full-scale 3D model instead of a CAD drawing as part of a bid proposal.

What is the Long Term Impact For 3D Printing and the Supply Chain with Mass Adoption?

Although at present is nowhere near displacing the standard supply chain or the way we manufacture, 3D printing  and the supply chain has the potential to transform certain parts of manufacturing over the longer term.
In addition, instead of taking place in bespoke factories, 3D printing will create demand for smaller and more standard premises, opening up opportunities for developers and investors.
Let’s take a look at the differences in today’s more traditional supply chain versus what it could look like in the future with more 3D printing and the supply chain:

The Current State or Traditional Supply Chain Before Mass 3D Printing Adoption

What 3D Printing and the Supply Chain will Look Like Once Mass Adopted and Applied in the Manufacturing Process

INFOGRAPHIC: The Impact of 3D Printing and the Supply Chain and Manufacturing

3d Printing supply chain infographic

How do you think 3D Printing and the supply chain will faire in the next coming years? Let us know in the comments section below.

This first post is the first in our series on 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, and its impact on the supply chain and logistics arenas. As more and more stories come out on the main stream use of 3D printing as a way to create supplies to use in the manufacturing process, there is clearly an impact on the supply chain. Today we will briefly cover what is 3D printing, how some view the future implications of 3D printing in general, some applications we’ve come across in various stories, and then a brief touch on the impact of 3D printing use as it pertains to logistics and supply chain applications.

This series could be a two or three part series, but it could be longer. Stay tuned over the next few days for more on 3D printing and the impact on the supply chain and logistics.

First of all What is 3D Printing and What is the Outlook of the Application in Manufacturing?

As we noted in our top issues in American Manufacturing series, 3D printing is a key trend and applications manufacturers are paying attention to over the next decade. Currently around 28% of the money spent on printing things is for final products, according to Terry Wohlers, who runs a research firm specializing in the field. He predicts that this will rise to just over 50% by 2016 and to more than 80% by 2020.

The process of 3D printing, sometimes called additive manufacturing, is a slow procedure in which a printer reads a digital blueprint and methodically drops building material according to a set of instructions, creating a final product that’s built up tiny layer by tiny layer. The printers are capable of producing extremely detailed and intricate levels of design that can be difficult or impractical to create with other methods.

Some are saying that 3D Printing will be “the next industrial revolution” says Doug Angus-Lee, rapid prototype account manager with Javelin Technologies, an Oakville, Ont.-based supplier of the technology.

“The invention or the implementation of the assembly line changed the way manufacturing works and 3D printing is going to change the way manufacturing works in the future. When the web took off, it gave us the tool for everybody … to become a publisher that was something that only a few of the biggest companies in the world were able to do it before that. Well, with 3D printing, we’re all able to be manufacturers.”

The list of materials that can be ingested and outputted by 3D printers is growing, some might say into sci-fi territory. The capabilities of 3-D printing hardware are evolving rapidly, too. They can build larger components and achieve greater precision and finer resolution at higher speeds and lower costs. Together, these advances have brought the technology to a tipping point—it appears ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes in an increasing number of applications.

Should this happen, the technology would transform manufacturing flexibility—for example, by allowing companies to slash development time, eliminate tooling costs, and simplify production runs—while making it possible to create complex shapes and structures that weren’t feasible before. Moreover, additive manufacturing would help companies improve the productivity of materials by eliminating the waste that accrues in traditional (subtractive) manufacturing and would thus spur the formation of a beneficial circular economy (for more, see “Remaking the industrial economy”). The economic implications of 3-D printing are significant: McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that it could have an impact of up to $550 billion a year by 2025.

The promise of a 3-D printing-based supply chain is simple: “Additive manufacturing will democratize the manufacturing process.” So says Ed Morris, director of NAMII, the federally-funded initiative set to define and promote the future of the industry.

3D Printing…..It WILL Affect the Supply Chain

3d printing supply chain“In terms of impact on inventory and logistics,” he says, “you can print on demand. Meaning you don’t have to have the finished product stacked on shelves or stacked in warehouses anymore. “Whenever you need a product,” he explains, “You just make it. And that collapses the supply chain down to its simplest parts, adding new efficiencies to the system.”

Those efficiencies run the entire supply chain, from the cost of distribution to assembly and carry, all the way to the component itself, all the while reducing scrap, maximizing customization and improving assembly cycle times.

Basically, Morris says, it tears the global supply chain apart and re-assembles it as a new, local system.

The traditional supply chain model is, of course, founded on traditional constraints of the industry, the efficiencies of mass production, the need for low-cost, high-volume assembly workers, real estate to house each stage of the process and so on.

But additive manufacturing bypasses those constraints.

3-D printing finds its value in the printing of low volume, customer-specific items, items that are capable of much greater complexity than is possible through traditional means. This includes hollow structures like GE’s fuel nozzles that would normally be manufactured in pieces for later assembly.

This at once eliminates the need for both high volume production facilities and low level assembly workers, thereby cutting out at least half of the supply chain in a single blow.

From there, the efficiencies of that traditional model stop making sense, it is no longer financially efficient to send products zipping across the globe to get to the customer when manufacturing can take place almost anywhere at the same cost.

The raw materials today are digital files and the machines that make them are wired and connected, faster and more efficient than ever. And that demands a new model—a need to go local, globally.

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