In the 30-plus years since the introduction of the first additive manufacturing (AM) machines, 3D printers have gotten faster, materials superior, applications bigger, acceptance greater, and the ambition to deploy AM for production all the closer.
From Carbon’s 3D printed adidas midsoles to Chanel’s laser sintered mascara brushes, examples of production are all around but challenges remain that prevent the technology from excelling as a true production process.
“There are new consumer demands at play— heightened by the impact of the pandemic—and they are completely reshaping the way we design, manufacture and mass produce goods that are not only highly personalised but built with sustainability in mind,” Wayne Davey, Global Head of 3D Printing Solutions Go-to-Market for HP shared with TCT. “There is a lot of opportunity for disruption not limited to any one industry in particular. Brands across automotive, health and wellness, sports, and more are seeing the benefits of making the switch from traditional manufacturing methods in favour of additive technology. And they want to do it quickly, economically, and most importantly, at a mass scale.”
Supply chain disruptions continue to rock the world of manufacturing, presenting real threats to productivity and having a huge impact on the bottom line of many businesses. From semiconductors and medical supply shortages to the surging costs of building materials and consumer goods – logistical issues and fluctuating, unpredictable prices are causing massive disruption to businesses of all types and sizes around the world.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the traditional manufacturing model of build, ship, and receive is no longer fit for purpose in the current climate, which experts agree isn’t going away any time soon. Add to this the well-documented global labour and skills shortages and you have the perfect storm.
And their method is faster, cheaper, and more sustainable.
Recently, many projects have been carried out using recyclable materials for sustainability. One of these projects was implemented by the Los Angeles-based architectural startup Azure.
Azure is using recycled plastic to 3D print prefab homes. The startup is now selling many house models ranging from a backyard studio to a two-bedroom ADU.
“The construction sector is the largest global consumer of raw materials, responsible for approximately 11 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions. Our responsibility to our customers and future generations is to use the most sustainable practices imaginable,” said Ross Maguire, the CEO of Azure, in April.
The manufacturing industry has established practices for product development, production and supply chain management. Organizations that develop new products carefully follow these well-known processes and rarely take risks. However, new opportunities that arise from additive manufacturing may challenge the way things are done today.
Recent events have highlighted the rigidity of traditional manufacturing and supply chain processes. For instance, the shocking economic gridlock at the port of Los Angeles includes ships unable to unload cargo and shipping containers unable to move to their destinations. Supply chain chaos continues to unfold due to increased consumer demand and widespread warehouse staffing shortages, among other factors, leaving many people waiting for basic goods.
As more companies continue to innovate their product ideas, especially those requiring urgency and customization, 3D printing is poised to transform how game-changing product ideas are brought to life.
Global supply chains continue to face massive disruptions caused by a growing number of unforeseen events—from a traffic jam at the Suez Canal to myriad natural disasters and a more-than-a-year-long pandemic that upended sourcing, procurement and production worldwide.
Through all these unforeseen events, digital manufacturing has stepped to the forefront as an invaluable solution to meeting the escalating demands for supply chain resilience. In particular, localization and customization—as well as innovations in 3D printing materials, technologies and processes—are closing supply chain holes while speeding the delivery of quality products globally.
Below are five ways that digital manufacturing is elevating supply chain resiliency.
The U.S. Navy recently installed its first 3D printer aboard one of its vessels in a program designed to test the capabilities of the technology and its potential contribution to enhancing maintenance aboard active duty vessels. The Navy joins with the commercial shipping industry which has also been looking at the capabilities of 3D printing and tested the first parts for ships made with the technology.
The 3D printing system was recently placed aboard the USS Essex, a Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock currently based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Commissioned in 1992, the amphibious assault ship is testing the technology while it is currently participating in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 training exercise.
“Having this printer aboard will essentially accelerate, enhance, and increase our warfighting readiness,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nicolas Batista, the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department (AIMD) officer aboard the Essex. “The capabilities of the 3D printer will enable Essex to become more self-sufficient.”
The London Borough of Hackney recently awarded £600,000 in grants via its Hackney Central Impact and Ideas Grant Fund, supporting local businesses pushing the circular economy.
The program involved a total of 23 green enterprises, including Batch.Works, an East London design and manufacturing studio using 3D printing to upcycle plastic waste into useful products. Riding off the back of the initiative, the Hackney Council is now actively encouraging other local businesses to partake in discussions regarding the circular economy, all in a bid to cut waste, reuse materials, and slash emissions.
Guy Nicholson, Deputy Mayor for Delivery, Inclusive Economy, and Regeneration, said, “It is all too easy to jettison some of our ambitions to reduce emissions, support the creation of a circular economy and play our collective part in transforming Hackney’s local economy and placing it at the forefront of the net zero carbon economy of tomorrow. Despite the challenges we face, the Council is determined to support the borough’s business owners to create the economy of tomorrow.”
Anglo American has launched a 3D printing project in South Africa focused on using the technology to manufacture spare parts for mining and processing equipment locally.
The company and its partners on the project, South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and US-based technology company, Ivaldi Group, are initially exploring the creation of a “digitally distributed supply chain”.
This involves a digitalisation of the designs of parts such as impellers for pumps, shaft sleeves, gasket bonnet valves, and mining rock drill bits, with a view towards locally producing and testing these parts at Anglo American’s operations in South Africa using 3D printers.
Anglo said the project would have environmental and community outreach benefits.
“The ability to send files – not physical spare parts – will reduce our carbon footprint, delivery lead times and logistics costs,” said Matthew Chadwick, head of socio-economic development and partnerships.
CEO sees remote manufacturing and transporting of products becoming obsolete
With all the technological change driving the transportation industry, Brad Jacobs told a virtual audience of The Economic Club of New York that 3D printing was likely to disrupt transportation more than anything else.
The XPO (NYSE: XPO) CEO and founder of numerous companies said 3D printing is “the main long-term technology driver that is going to affect our industry.”
Jacobs conceded that 3D printing is taking awhile to gain traction in manufacturing. “But it’s going to happen,” he said, calling the number of potential applications for 3D printing “quite substantial.”
When it does, it is going to make a significant amount of manufacturing local. And that’s a big shift.
Thousands of years ago, the blacksmith led a technological leap in sub-Saharan Africa. West Africa’s Nok culture, for example, switched from using stone tools to iron around 1500BC. Imagine an innovative artisan like this re-emerging in the 21st century equipped with digital technologies.
This is not Wakanda science fiction. It is the story of a real promise that 3D printing holds for an industrial revolution on the African continent.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a fabrication process in which a three-dimensional object is built (printed) by adding layer upon layer of materials to a series of shapes. The material can be metal, alloys, plastics or concrete. The market size of 3D printing was valued at US$13.78 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 21% to a value of US$62.79 billion in 2028.