3D Printing: What is it good for?

Will 3D printing encourage companies to move to decentralized manufacturing or stick with centralized manufacturing?

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), could be a game-changer for manufacturing, enabling significant savings of cost, time, and materials. In traditional manufacturing, parts are made in large quantities at centralized factories, then shipped to consumers. But with the growth of 3D printing, many wonder if technology will cause a shift from this centralized model to a more distributed model, in which facilities in different locations coordinate to fill manufacturing needs.

3D printer and question marks

A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Dept. (EPP) and the University of Lisbon investigated how 3D printing could contribute to distributed manufacturing. They examined whether 3D printing will disrupt this central model, specifically in the context of spare parts for the aerospace industry, where being able to quickly print parts instead of stockpiling them would be attractive.

“Our results suggest that 3D printing may not be as conducive to distributed manufacturing as some might hope,” says Parth Vaishnav, a research professor in EPP. He and his team believe 3D printing is more suitable for non-critical parts that do not need to be expensively processed after emerging from the printers.

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